Respect is Earned

There’s a phrase here in the US — contempt of cop — that is often cited to arrest or otherwise harass law-abiding citizens. The idea here is that police officers are deserving of respect, and therefore disrespecting them is a punishable offense.

But are they deserving of respect? What, exactly, have they done to deserve it?

I’ve met plenty of cops who have my respect. These are people who take their job seriously, and are friendly and kind and protective of the citizens in their jurisdiction. I feel safer with them around, not less safe. They are assets to their communities.

I’ve also met plenty who are denigratory and power-hungry. Cops who abuse their position in order to assert authority over others. This is so prevalent that it’s become the archetypical image of ‘cop’ many people think of when they see a police car, leading many of us to feel less safe when they’re around, not more.

We’re supposed to call judges ‘Your Honor,’ without knowing how honorable they actually are. We’re supposed to be deferential toward powerful CEOs, though we may know nothing about how they’ve wielded their power and authority; what they’ve done with the influence they possess.

These ‘respectable’ positions grant those who occupy them great power, and often great responsibility. As a result, it’s expected that those who occupy them are worthy of our respect. That acquiring a certain job title makes you a respectable person.

Unfortunately, this is very often not the case.

Many people who hold these positions — powerful businesspeople, judges, politicians, enforcers of the law — are petty human beings with nothing but disdain for those under them. They abuse their power, use it to gain more power, and assume they deserve outsized amounts of respect for their accomplishments, despite their disrespect for those over whom they hold sway.

We’ve become so accustomed to respecting titles that it’s easy to overlook the people who wear them. We’re so eager to see the best in those who could crush us that we very seldom wonder why.

I say give respect where warranted, and no more than the modicum you’d afford to any other human being beyond that. Celebrating petty dictators (no matter what their title) only serves to elevate more of their ilk. Respecting those who disrespect you only helps them justify their wrongful actions.

Respect is earned, not inherited through name or title or division of responsibility. It’s what people do with what they’ve got that shows their character, not their potential to help or harm.

Keep this in mind when deciding what to do with whatever power you might hold, today or tomorrow.