What is Respect?

Key message: Respect meets three criteria: tolerance, politeness and honesty. If one criterion is not met, it is not respect.


What types of respect exist?

"As children we are taught (one hopes) to respect our parents, teachers, and elders, school rules and traffic laws, family and cultural traditions, other people's feelings and rights, our country's flag and leaders, the truth and people's differing opinions. ... Although a wide variety of things are said to deserve respect, contemporary philosophical interest in respect has overwhelmingly been focused on respect for persons, the idea that all persons should be treated with respect simply because they are persons." (https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/respect, 30.12.20)


Basically, there are two types of respect: respect with evaluation (appraisal respect) and respect without evaluation. "The idea that all persons should be treated with respect simply because they are persons" is respect without evaluation. A driver respects a speed limit without evaluating whether it makes sense at this location. It is respect with evaluation when, for example, we respect someone because she has a special skill.


"Evaluation is always done in light of some qualitative standards, and different standards can apply to one and the same individual. Thus, appraisal respect is a matter of degree, depending on the extent to which the object meets the standards (so, we can respect someone more or less highly and respect one person more highly than another), and it can co-exist with (some) negative assessments of an individual or her traits (judged in light of other standards). We can have appraisal respect for someone's honesty even while thinking her lazy, ... we can respect an individual as an excellent ... carpenter yet regard her as far from a moral exemplar." (https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/respect, 30.12.20)


In this text, the term "respect for persons" without evaluation shall be defined.


What is respectful and what is disrespectful?

Nurses were interviewed what indicates respect:


"Respect To and From Colleagues

• Listen, be fully attentive, and truly hear.
• Treat others as you want to be treated.
• Acknowledge and express appreciation.
• Exhibit empathy and understanding.
• Display courtesy and consideration.
• Be accountable and professional.

Respect From Managers

• Acknowledge staff.
• Communicate and provide for information exchange.
• Ask staff for their opinions and for what they need.
• Be supportive, fair, consistent, and empathetic."

(Ulrich, B., Breugger, R., & Lefton, C. (2009). Respect: Beginning to define the concept in nursing. The Official Journal of the Center for American Nurses, 2(3), p. 8)


On the other hand, we must be able to identify disrespect:


"Although social media has enabled people to connect and interact with each other, it has also made people vulnerable to insults, humiliation, hate, bullying, facing threats from either known (e.g., colleagues, friends) or unknown (e.g., fans, clients, anonymous ones) individuals. ... The resulting negative impact from emotional distress, privacy concerns and threats to physical safety and mental health affect individuals online and offline. ... We propose five contextual types of harassment in online communication on social media:

  1. Sexual harassment is an offensive sexual speech that usually targets females. ...
  2. Racial harassment targets race and ethnicity characteristics of a victim such as color, country, culture, religion, in an offensive manner ...
  3. Appearance-related harassment uses embarrassing language referring to body appearance. ...
  4. Intellectual harassment offends the intellectual power or opinions of individuals. Even smart people may be ridiculed and become victims ...
  5. Political harassment is related to someone’s political views ..."

(Rezvan, M., Shekarpour, S., Alshargi, F., Thirunarayan, K., Shalin, V.L., Sheth,
A.: Analyzing and learning the language for different types of harassment. Plos one 15(3), p. 1-3)


For 30 years I taught process engineering and ergonomics to students in a laboratory. During this time I worked with around 3000 students. In order to treat them with respect, I have answered the following questions for myself:
  • May students and I have different opinions? Yes
  • Do I have to like all students? No
  • Am I allowed to discriminate against students who have a different opinion or who I don't like? No
  • Do I have to be polite to all students? Yes
  • Am I allowed to criticize students? Yes, but politely.
  • May I say bad things about students behind their backs? No
The definition of respect can be derived from these basic questions and answers. ( Is an important question missing?)

What is the definition of "respect for people"?

"Respect for people" (without evaluation) has three characteristics:

  1. Tolerance: You accept that other persons are different and have different opinions.
  2. Politeness: You are always polite to other persons.
  3. Honesty: When you have a different opinion you tell it directly to the other person. You do not tell lies about others.

Definition: Respect is tolerant, polite and honest behaviour towards others. If one criterion is not met, it is not respect.


(Read on LEARN-STUDY-WORK "How to define words (terms)")

What is respect? It is tolerance, politeness, honesty - www.learn-study-work.org

Why is tolerance important for respect?

After the Second World War it was clear that such a disaster should not be allowed to happen again. That is why the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed in Paris on 10 December 1948:


"Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind ... Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations ... Article 1. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. ...
Article 2. Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status."


Nobody will doubt that tolerance is essential for respect.


"Every person has dignity, and enjoys the right to have dignity respected by her fellow humans ... The dignity that is protected by the Eighth Amendment, the Due Process Clause, and American constitutions, federal and state, is not social dignity, but human dignity, a property shared by all persons as such. It is not a dignity that is bestowed upon persons, either by other persons or by "the state" or "society" or some community or other, and that therefore can be taken away." (Markus Dirk Dubber (2004). Toward a Constitutional Law of Crime and Punishment, 55 Hastings L.J. 509)


Why is politeness important for respect?

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights says:


"Article 18. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion ... Article 19. Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression ... Article 29. ... In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society. ..."


"Freedom of thought and concience" means that I do not have to like the actions of others. I am allowed to express my opinion and criticize their actions but I am limited in doing so because I have to recognize and respect the rights and freedoms of the others. This means that I have to be polite.


"etiquette ...


the customs or rules of behaviour regarded as correct in social life ...
good or proper behaviour ... politeness" (www.collinsdictionary.com/de/worterbuch/englisch-thesaurus/etiquette#etiquette__1 , 04-01-21)
"... any highly stratified society will possess an etiquette in which every person knows the behaviour expected from him toward others and from others toward himself. ... By mid-20th century, however, concern about polite conduct was no longer confined to a social elite. Good manners for ordinary people in everyday situations were set forth ..." (www.britannica.com/topic/etiquette, 04.01.21)


Definition: Politeness is a set of rules of good behaviour.


Every culture has its own rules of politeness. The rules change over time. In the past, it was normal for hospital managers not to exchange information with nurses. Today, the nurses consider it rude if the managers do not do that (see above).


Why is honesty important for respect?

The model for honesty is a fair trial: the accused is treated politely. Everyone is obliged to tell the truth. Prosecutors are allowed to raise their concerns. The accused may defend himself on all points. If he is guilty, he will get a just punishment.


When two people meet, there are three possibilities:

  1. Both have respect for each other and they get along well.
  2. Both have no respect for each other, they fight and the stronger wins. 
  3. One person has respect and the other does not. The person with respect might get in trouble.

This looks easy, but it's not, because the line between respectful and disrespectful is fluid.

Who has respect? - respectful, disrespectful - www.learn-study-work.org

If we don't like a person, for whatever reason, we should avoid contact when it is possible (avoidance of stress), but we still treat that person with respect (we are still polite). People without respect sometimes openly or covertly try to harm a person they dislike by bullying, harassment or mobbing. Then they often tell lies about that person.


Those who have respect do not tell lies about others. When we criticize another person, we can be wrong. Therefore, we give the other person the opportunity to defend himself. However, if the person we want to criticize has no respect and is a liar, we are tolerant and polite, but there is no point in discussing different opinions with that person because it is useless and only causes trouble. To a person who has no respect and is lying, we should state our opinion without discussing it or remain silent when it is dangerous to give the opinion.


"Dishonesty creates a climate of wariness that carries corrosive consequences for everyone. Social trust is a fragile value; lies initiate its disintegration. We all pay a price in reduced willingness to trust others and to enjoy the benefits that such trust makes possible." (Smith, T. (2003). The metaphysical case for honesty. The Journal of Value Inquiry, 37, p. 517)


Respect and a "good will" belong together

So that people can live together peacefully and contentedly, everyone must follow rules: most important are the rules of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the rules of politeness.


In life, we should always show respect and a "good will". We can respect a person but avoid contact with him. If we want or need to live with a person, we need the "good will" to do so without conflict. When there is conflict, someone who has "good will" tries to resolve it intelligently.


The philosopher Emanuel Kant says:

But what sort of law can that be, the conception of which must determine the will ... in order that this will may be called good ... ? ... I am never to act otherwise than so that I could also will that my maxim should become a universal law." (www.woldww.net/classes/Information_Ethics/Kant-notes_and_excerpts.htm, 05.06.21)


Formulating universal laws is complicated. It is easier to say that a good will must take into account the interests of all the people involved.