Respect is a privilege and not a right

Everybody is aware that there are vast differences between generations but the previous generation (that of our parents and uncles) has still not come to terms with it. One of the constant complaints from that generation is how disrepectful this new generation is. While I agree with that sentiment, I agree only partly.

Let’s clarify some basic things. I believe that basic human respect for another living being has to be there. This means saying your sorry`s, thank you`s and please`s to people regardless of class, caste, and gender differences. This means not talking rudely to your maid or driver. All these are respect on a 1:1 level or micro level. Then there’s respect at a macro level. This means being respectful of the public and not parking your car in a way that blocks the entire traffic. This means not robbing the shopkeeper of his deserved profit. This means appreciating the effort your national team has put into the World Cup and not belittling them for one loss. All this is basic human respect.

Over and above this basic respect is respect towards an individual for who he/she is as a person. Remember how people say “Respect has to be earned”? This is where that statement applies. Some people are extremely good to you or have always given you sound advice and you respect them for that.  Even if a person hasn’t interacted with you in a personal way but you believe them to be intelligent or kind or philanthropic, you develop immense respect for this person.

And that’s the kind of respect I like to give and receive. I don’t like to hear statements like “You should respect him because he’s older than you” or “She’s such a successful businesswoman; look at her high standard; you should be more respectful towards her”. These statements just don’t make sense to me. I respect people based on their actions- towards me and just generally. A person who is good to me, gives me good advice, and speaks kindly to everyone is worth respecting. Now this person can be a service staff employed to clear the tables after meals or can be a highly placed government official. I will respect them regardless of their career choices and financial status simply because of their inner qualities. This person can also be a 40 year old adult or a 14 year old teenager. I will respect them regardless of their age because age has NOTHING to do with it. This is the most absurd thing- Respect a person because he’s older than you. Why? He’s a jerk. He’s a sexual predator. He’s an adulterer. He’s dishonest. He’s a sadist. He’s committed tax fraud. So explain to me why I should ‘respect’ this person? Just because he’s older and has a better standing in the society? Oh and also, respect is a two-way street. If you treat me with baseless disrespect, I don’t give a damn about who you are or how old you are, I will not respect you.

Many older people think that they are more knowledgeable or wiser than people younger than them. How many times have you heard this statement- “I have seen more than you have so I’m smarter than you”? I have heard this and similar statements quite a few times in my life and every time I hear it I feel sorry for the person saying it to me. How blind, stupid and narcissistic this person must be to actually believe that. Here’s the thing- yes, you’ve been around for longer and you have seen and experience a lot. No question there. But that doesn’t mean you know everything or know more than someone younger than you or can use all this information wisely. It’s just that you have seen and experienced a different set of things that’s probably the trademark of your time, and the youngster has seen another set of things that’s the trademark of his current time. Neither of you are wrong. Oh that’s the other thing! They believe that in an argument or debate the parties involved are either right or wrong. There’s no entertaining the idea that both parties are looking at two different angles of the same thing and that means both are right, or rather nobody’s wrong.

And then, the worst of all is when people dictate how to show respect. The classic Indian practice of bending and touching elders’ feet to show respect is the biggest charade in the Hindu-Indian society. For my non-Indian readers, let me give you some context on this. A person generally bends and touches elders’ feet to show respect and seek their blessings, and elders reciprocate by placing their hand on the youngster’s head and blessing the him/her.

Now my question is- Will you not give me your blessings if I don’t touch your feet? Which means that by touching your feet, I am forcing you to bless me whether you want to or not. Are you even really blessing me? I feel that if you genuinely want to bless me, you can do it sitting in a whole different continent too. All this feet touching is not needed. I kid you not when I say that some people get offended if you don’t touch their feet. I don’t like this practice. First of all, I think it’s too much work to bend and touch and rise up. Second of all, I prefer to show my love and respect to you through actions like being helpful to you or hugging you or calling you periodically to chat. Fortunately most of the elders close to me also show their love towards me in a similar manner. Moreover, I find this practice a servile practice. I feel that it’s a narcissist’s tool to make themselves feel important.

Sometimes talking to people from an erstwhile generation is so tedious. There’s a huge gap in the perceptions. And it’s important to tread carefully. In my case, I don’t like to be a hypocrite to myself by doing something I don’t believe in. But at times that’s noticed and seen as rude or impolite by some people. That’s where the art of relationship management and reputation management probably comes in.  The only thing I ask is that you understand that respect is a privilege and not a right, and this is based only on your actions.





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