In the wake of recent race-related riots in England and France, both countries are trying to pump a bit more R.E.S.P.E.C.T. into their respective populaces. But while America can inject enthusiasm into proceedings on command, can their European forefathers engender respect just by asking for it? Can anyone?
In my ‘umble opinion, Respect is like the stock market. When you are born, you float on the market, given the respect that is due all human beings. As you age, gracefully or otherwise, your value in the Market of Life is driven by your actions. Do good deeds, and you gain respect and, maybe one day, a statue and keys to a city. Do them not, and your respect crashes like all your Black weekdays come together, down to a minimum dictated by your basic human rights.
Given my take on Respect, I find it hard to see why governments think they can wave a magic wand and say “Be excellent to each other!” and have us comply1. Even if it was something more concrete, mandating cultural change at a government level never works. Cultural change springs from the grass roots, from the people, not from heads of state.
From the lofty heights of 30, I can understand why the stereotypical youngster of today bangs on about ‘Re-spect!’, even if I am projecting my thoughts onto the actions of others. If you take it that everyone, as a human being, is due a certain level of respect, then can you blame people for being proactive if they don’t think they are getting that respect? If kids feel let down by the government and all points beneath, we should listen, rather than ignore their concerns because we think nothing can be done or that their opinions are worthless.
Respect is also modern society’s equivalent of establishing a pecking order. We are ranked among our peers by the respect we can command. In our past, deciding who was top dog was a martial affair. However, even modern animals, humans included, prefer to rely on displaying and bravado to settle things, rather than resort to violence which could lead, directly or indirectly, to death.
While we can all expect a certain level of respect, anything more than that must be earned. It cannot be commanded, as the government is sure to discover; indeed, as the monarchy has discovered. Even in a monarchy, constitutional or otherwise, where respect for the monarch was historically demanded and enforced, modern society and its attack dog, the media, has seen to it that even a royal family is not absolutely respected.
The tabloid media is a primary mechanism for the proliferation of disrespect. Everyone who falls under their scrutiny is treated extremely harshly, their actions reduced to ridiculously alliterative malapropisms. The readers, who, like all media consumers, take it as gospel, assume this treatment to be the norm, and the “dissing” spreads. And where Jeremy Paxman gets his fingers slapped for being a bit pointed to an interviewee, the tabloids can say what they want, for the price of a lawsuit or two.
I’m not sure whether to cringe at the two-facedness, or applaud the intent, of Tony Blair in his speech about respect. This from a man who disrespected the entire country when going to war without the blessing of those who elected him or the say-so of the UN. Anyway…
As usual, the answer is to sort the kids out. It is up to parents to engender in their offspring respect for all living things, sentience aside. The dangers facing children these days are considerably more urban than before, and are the indicators of what is wrong with society. Children could argue that it is our problem and that we should deal with it, but the sad truth about Old Dogs holds, and the First World Adult is generally unwilling to shake the tree under which they shelter.
Respect needs to bred, nurtured, earned, all words that suggest some kind of effort. In the world of the TV dinner and the nanny state, I fear there just aren’t enough people willing to go the extra mile. And adding a Tony Blair or a Nicholas Sarkozy to that list isn’t enough.
1 Having listened to Tony Blair’s speech, he was not trying to force respect upon us. I did agree with all he had to say. He and his cabinet must know that their attempts to engender respect will be met by sneers and jibes, but, politically, to do nothing would be worse.