Respect (part 3)

Harlequin “mix”

Respect for the achievements of others

As this topic is very close to our hearts, several harlequins have commented on it. Here is our “Harlequin mix” with the collected comments:

We start with a comment from our guest author Martin Miller. Martin is a psychotherapist and lives in Switzerland.


This topic is very interesting, because as a therapist I have to deal with this relationship issue every day. Most of the time it is an issue that arises because people are treated without respect. What does that mean? They don’t feel taken seriously, they are humiliated, they are not noticed, they are belittled, they are discriminated against, they are treated as if they weren’t there, and so on.

In the past, it was clear that you had to show respect to people, as you were told to do in your upbringing. You showed deference and the person deserved respect from the outset because he or she had a social status that naturally implied everyone’s respect. Today that is no longer the case. You have to earn respect. You have to perform to a certain standard and often that is not enough. Respect for other people is not the only issue. We have many applications of this expression today: respect for animals and the environment, respect for other people, absence of racism, respect for human rights. Particularly this expression has been heard a lot recently – Erdogan, Putin, Trump, Bolsonaro, Lukashenko, etc. We have virtually no global authority to enforce respect for others. Currently respect as an attitude and approach in relationships can be seen in the same light as indifference and negation of one’s environment.


When I was younger, I thought you had to show respect to elders. I attribute that to my upbringing and for a long time it made sense to me. It has something to do with reciprocity and as a little reminder that you only get something if you do something in return.

Then I got older and realised at some point that many people seem to think it does not apply to them. Even older people display a lack of respect for younger people, partly on occasion, partly as a result of bad experiences with other youngsters. We humans seem to be bad at differentiating. For some time I have increasingly been wondering about respect., It has nothing to do with age, that’s for sure. With trust? Yes, that. With peer group? Sure. With others? Hopefully! Mutually: Yes, please…

HFI – Respect for nature

The insect population is declining, the diversity on our doorstep is dwindling, but the neighbours are feasting on their pebblestone front garden, which is little work and looks “neat”. We are affected by climate change and drive our SUVs around the world as a matter of course. Something should be done about air pollution, we think, while at the same time we use the car to fetch bread from the bakery around the corner. “Our” nature must be protected at all costs, while the next cruise or exotic trip to distant holiday paradises is being planned. Of course we fly there.

The rainforest is the lungs of the world. That’s what I was taught in geography class. (Why have I never forgotten this sentence?) But it is so far away, I can’t do anything to protect it from here. I could continue the list of these contradictions endlessly.

The earth is a system that constantly renews itself and functions as long as you don’t (severely) disturb it (severely). It is a large entity, some scientists also speak of a complex, living being. It is good to become aware of the nature around us and to realise that we are part of this great being. Respect means at least checking what we can do to keep nature natural. If we continue to harm nature, we harm ourselves. Thus, respect for nature is consequently respect for ourselves.

BBR on “persons deserving respect”

The aspiration to show respect towards elders naturally accompanied my childhood – and was reinforced by the children’s literature from the 50s and 60s that was available for loan at the local library. Sentences like “You do not correct adults,” “Little children should be seen and never heard” etc. could directly unfold their indoctrinating power over me as a bookworm.

Nevertheless, it is not this aspect that I first recall when I hear the keyword “persons deserving respect”, but rather the profession- and role-specific expectation of respect. I grew up in a small Westphalian town in the 1960s – and with the world view that certain people are “persons deserving respect”: the headmaster of the school, the family doctor and, of course, especially the priest.” (And the cherries on the respect person cake were the head doctor in the hospital and the bishop!) At that time, respected persons were not the people whose actions one particularly respected, but those one did not dare to disagree with. First of all, it was assumed that they would surely know everything better because of their knowledge and experience.

But the reality for us children sometimes looked different. In the first years of school, it was by no means the headmaster of my school I had the most respect (i.e. the most fear) for, but the caretaker who pursued a merciless regime when it came to rubbish bins and bicycle parking.

As a teenager, my image of the persons deserving respect because of their professional position tarted to crumble. When the priest preaches from the pulpit that only the Russians were to blame for the Second World War – why did nobody say anything? And why is changing one’s family doctor after the umpteenth misdiagnosis unthinkable?

Fortunately, a lot has changed today – a clear indication that not everything was better in the past. A politician who simply had every tax official who was too interested in his private financial circumstances transferred to the provinces? That was still possible until the 1980s, but not any more. (And if it is, it won’t take years for the world to find out!) Otherwise, I’m with Benjamin Franklin:

A truly great man will neither trample a worm nor grovel before the emperor.

BCO / Grumpy Old Man

To me, perhaps because of my British upbringing, politeness is closely tied to respect. Harlequin UTO mentioned “thank you” and “sorry” as token of respect, and I would go further. I am occasionally infuriated by the behaviour of customers of all ages who in capable of saying anything other than what they want to the shop assistant, wordlessly snatching the proffered article en route to the check-out, where they will again fail to greet the cashier, thank him or her or say goodbye. And this is the person, who has faithfully served us throughout the pandemic behind a makeshift plastic shield, as if that was adequate day-long protection. I want to shout “Didn’t anyone teach you good manners?!” It seems just a short step to the sensation-hungry spectators who are more concerned about getting a good video to post online than allowing paramedics or fireman to get to the scene of an accident, let alone helping the victims.

The words of politeness on themselves carry little meaning, but their function is to display respect. I do not think particular persons deserve respect because of their social position; EVERYONE we come in contact with deserves respect until they prove otherwise.

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
John Donne (1624)

English translation: BCO


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