Updated: Sep 3, 2022
People across all social and economic levels of society are becoming less respectful. If you don’t believe me, Google, “Why are we losing respect among society?” There are thousands of articles on this topic.
Not every individual is losing respect, but the decline is a dominant trend in our society.
The question that begs to be answered is, Why are we losing respect? I believe the biggest reason is because we as a people are being taught not to judge. We’ve all heard it: “Do not judge!”
But of course, we must judge continually in every area of life. Here is a short list of when good judgment is required. This list can easily be a hundred times longer:
Whom to date
Where to work
How to deal with disobedient children
How to overcome life’s traumas and sicknesses
How to handle difficult relatives, neighbors, and supervisors
Children don’t say please and thank you unless someone teaches them to do so. Respect for parents is taught in the home.
But, I don’t believe we’re losing respect only because parents are no longer teaching it.
Then there's the opposite extreme. Recently on a family vacation, we stayed in a comfortable and lavishly decorated (but inexpensive!) Airbnb home. Hung on the light-blue walls were a number of paintings and slogans. One of them said,
I couldn't help but wonder how it was possible to be humble but not kind, or kind but not humble.
Showing respect is not “zero-sum”
One of the reasons people don't show respect for a person, group, or idea is because people believe that showing such respect would disparage other persons, groups, or ideas—that somehow there is only “so much respect available,” hence “zero-sum”—once the supply of respect is used up, there is no more.
People often decide not to favor one group of people or set of ideas over another, thinking that out of fairness, everything should be treated the same. This avoids having to judge anyone or any idea.
The notion that everything must be treated equally reminds me of a scene from the movie, The Incredibles, where Syndrome says to Mr. Incredible,
“When I’m old and I’ve had my fun,
I'll sell my inventions so that everyone
can be superheroes. Everyone can be super!
And when everyone's super...no one will be.”
I am also reminded of what the Philistines did to Isaac, as described in the Old Testament:
“For he had possession of flocks, and possession of herds, and great store of servants: and the Philistines envied him. For all the wells which his father's servants had digged in the days of Abraham his father, the Philistines had stopped them, and filled them with earth.”
-- Genesis 26:14-15
The Philistines resented Isaac because he and his family had more of something than they had. They wanted to be treated the same as he. Why didn’t the Philistines go ahead and dig their own wells and raise their own herds? Surely there were more of them than Isaac and his family. Isaac was not stopping them from digging their own wells. Instead of uplifting themselves, the Philistines sought to lower someone else.
Doesn’t filling a well with earth require almost as much work as digging a new well?
Without judgment, we're left to treat all choices equally
Society is unwisely moving toward treating everything equally:
All cultures are treated equally
All religions are treated equally
Children today believe their ideas are equal to their parents'
Young people want as many possessions as older people who have worked and saved their entire lives
While there should and must be religious freedom in this country, it is not true that all religions are equally healthy and bring about an equal amount of good. Yet, increasingly we are taught not to acknowledge any difference of goodness between people's beliefs.
The Bible makes strong distinctions between the following:
God vs. humankind
Male vs. female
Good vs. evil
Wisdom vs. foolishness
Whether you believe in the Bible or not, it's clear that modern societies are working hard to erase these distinctions. How can we have respect for God if there is no difference between Him and us?
Some of the reasons why people treat everything equally are:
It is gutless
It requires no thought, wisdom, experience, or judgment
“If I treat everyone else equally regardless of their choices, then I, in return, can do whatever I want without consequence.”
Treating everything equally,
weakens individuals and entire nations because how is a person or group of people supposed to behave better if they're not allowed to judge which behavior is better than another?
desensitizes feelings because people are not allowed to be concerned or feel badly after witnessing harmful behavior from other individuals.
How can a person feel accomplishment or self-respect if one believes it inappropriate to think that his or her thoughts or behavior could be more healthy or productive than anyone else's?
While people are equal, their choices are not. This is why we lock up criminals.
In the long run, treating every thought and idea equally causes the elimination of respect from society. Without exercising judgment, how can we respect one idea without respecting all ideas at the same time?
Furthermore, respect for “what is good and wise” is often in conflict with “what I want for me right now."
Without a good sense of judgment between good and bad or harmful and productive, what is left to motivate people to become better individuals? Without judgment, there is no better or worse. People then often fall prey to the question,
“Why should anyone else be better than me?”
What is the probability that you at age 20 know more about the difficulties of life than the combined experience and wisdom of hundreds of millions of people three times your age? In the rare condition where you actually do know more than most other people, make your voice heard legally and rationally using persuasion.
Develop the skills of persuasion and communication. Align with people with views similar to yours. Persuade others to join you. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a master at being firm and assertive, but wise.
To you young people, let me give you a valuable tip: You’ll never win an argument with your boss. Sorry, it won’t happen. Even if you “win” initially, you’ll lose later because he or she will hold a grudge against you and will eventually punish you for it. Instead, persuade with patience. Over time, your boss will come around to your way of thinking. If not, then look for another job or get transferred to a different department.
There may be cases where more extreme measures are necessary. But I’m not speaking of those. I’m referring to ordinary, day-to-day interactions between people within a society.
Empathy vs. sympathy
Another cause for lack of respect is not knowing the difference between empathy and sympathy.
Empathy is the ability to understand other people’s feelings as if you were feeling them yourself.
Sympathy is empathy along with a sense of approval or support, such as having sympathy (support) for a cause or for a person's behavior.
Communicating genuine empathy, by action or word, is a way of showing love, such as saying to a person, "I've been in your shoes, and what you're going through is very hard."
Whereas, saying, "People are so down on you!" communicates the message that you sympathize with their behavior.
People who engage in destructive behaviors (alcoholism, abuse, promiscuity) need to understand that while family, friends, and co-workers may not sympathize with their actions, family, friends, and co-workers should empathize with how hard it is to overcome such behaviors.
Empathy is part of love, while sympathy tends toward acceptance and rationalization.
Empathy is closeness and is unconditional, while sympathy is judgmental and conditional.
Empathizing with someone shows tenderness and respect. Sympathizing is akin to enabling, which is the opposite of showing respect.
True humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less. -- C.S. Lewis
Many people have trouble with the word righteous because it implies that someone’s views and opinions are “more right” than someone else’s. But of course, this is true! A 40-year-old should have better good judgment than a 15-year-old. There ought to be people wiser than others based on their life experiences. We should respect and appreciate the advice and counsel given to us by people who are older than us.
It is imperative that we judge righteously. For example:
It probably isn’t wise to go down an unfamiliar dark alley at night when you’re alone.
If your last three boyfriends were unemployed drunks, and those relationships did not go well, you probably ought not to date another unemployed drunk for a while.
If someone has been threatening you physically or emotionally and they’re not stopping their behavior, you should probably avoid them or do something about it.
We need to make appropriate judgments every day!
The key to appropriate judgement is to make a proper decision about a person, action, thought, or behavior without levying condemnation.
Lack of respect creates unhappiness, unrest, and bitterness
Here is a very short list of what we’re losing respect for as a society:
Parents, particularly fathers
Property, especially someone else’s
Childrearing (birthrates are dropping)
Marriage (marriage rates are dropping)
Respect for money, both personal and public
Self-respect (weakening of the ability to handle criticism)
Personal independence (increasing dependence on government)
Authority (police, government, educational systems, commerce, religion)
Life itself -- pervasive promiscuity portrayed in film (creation of life); prominence of needless violence portrayed in film (ending of life); texting while driving; resurgence of public interest in euthanasia
Lack of respect opens the door for contempt. Contempt, in terms of relationships, is the notion that “my ideas are better than yours” or “I am a better person than you.” Contempt comes from unrighteous judgment. Contempt is held by the person judging unrighteously, not the person being judged.
Contempt is one of the leading causes of divorce in the United States.
A sign of appropriate, righteous judgement is that it does not produce contempt.
I always assumed my mother was correct in her positions and perspectives unless I was able to convince her otherwise using whatever means of persuasion I could muster. But ultimately, I respected my mother’s decisions.
Did you catch that? It went by quickly.
“I always assumed my mother was correct.”
This doesn’t mean she actually was correct in every instance, but after I stopped being mad at her for telling me "No," I ultimately respected her decision and her authority.
How many children do this nowadays?
In the city where I live is a park with a 1.5-mile long paved path leading to the top of an 800-foot hill. It's a steep walk! Thousands of people walk the path every day. The park's website and signs at the beginning of the path say, "For the consideration of others and the wildlife, please do not listen to amplified music or sound." (Emphasis added)
Being considerate of others means being respectful of others.
People often break this rule and listen to loud music broadcast from electronic speakers they carry with them. One of our friends my wife and I sometimes walk with is very bothered by such behavior. She tells most of the rule-breakers, "Excuse me, there are signs that say loudspeakers are not allowed on this walk." Most of the time people respect her wishes (and the park's rule) and turn off their music.
But then there was this one lady.
Our friend reminded the woman of the rule and asked her to turn off her music. The woman's response was a haughty,
"Well, that's not my rule."
This statement set off every alarm in my head. I didn't know I had so many! The woman did not turn off her music and walked on. Soon she was out of earshot.
Why did that woman bother me so?
I believe it was because I wanted to tell her, "It's not my rule, either. But that's not relevant! What's relevant is it's the park's rule. As a guest of the park, you should abide by its rules."
The woman manifested a degree of disrespect I hope is foreign to the rest of us.
What must it feel like to have that much disrespect for other people? How does such a person view other people and other people's property?
A solemn prediction
The New Testament provides an ominous prediction for our day:
This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good.
-- 2 Timothy 3:1-3
I challenge you to tell me which of the following traits are not consistent with someone who lacks respect:
Lovers of self (selfish)
Without natural affection (uncaring, desensitized)
False accuser (dishonest)
Incontinent (lacking self-control)
Fierce (demanding, impatient)
Despiser of those who are good (jealous)
I hope none of us wants these traits for ourselves. Yet, these are the fruits of disrespect, and they are all around us and are becoming increasingly common. We must resist this trend in our society.
Do your best to respect others and exercise appropriate judgment. If we can be better at this, the world will be a much happier place.
Show of respect
To see an incomparable show of respect, visit the Arlington Cemetery in Virginia, and watch the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. I have visited the cemetery and have witnessed the ceremony firsthand. I had never in my life seen such a demonstration of respect. The soldiers who perform the ceremony must pass an extremely difficult set of requirements and must undergo a great deal of training.
The tomb has been guarded every minute of every day without regard to weather or any other circumstances since 1937.