Respect, The Country School value for October, is an old-fashioned value that seems to continue to lose its standing in our society. When I was a kid, government, churches, and schools were central institutions that warranted respect simply because they were institutions and they were made up of human beings, who by virtue of being human were deemed to be worthy of respect.
Watergate was probably the watershed event in recent history that led to the the diminution of respect that Americans held for their government. Child abuse scandals in the church similarly undermined respect for religious institutions. The disintegration of the family unit, the lack of respect afforded to government, church, and authority, a changing economy, poor results, and what I call “careless casualness” are probably some of the factors that led to the low respect schools are currently afforded.
But one of the factors most responsible for the decline of respect that people show for others is a general willingness to accept that respect has to be “earned” rather than being the right way to treat all individuals. Parents and adults can turn this tide by helping model, and instill in their children, the insistence that all people deserve our respect, that when you look below the surface just a bit, most people are inherently good, kind, well-intentioned, and a lot like ourselves.
In his book Say Please, Say Thank You: The Respect We Owe One Another, theology professor Donald McCullough writes, “people deserve to be treated with respect, not because they have earned it, not because they are always kind or easy to get along with, but because they are part of something bigger than themselves… they [are part] of humanity… Treat one another with the dignity befitting human beings, and that dignity will in turn multiply. Attitudes and actions are as infectious as a mean virus.”
McCullough’s observations suggest a natural place to begin with our children. Taking the time to emphasize seemingly small expressions of thoughtfulness – for instance, letting others go first, holding doors, aiding others with even small tasks, and consistently saying “please” and “thank you” — “can have a big role in creating a more humane humanity.” By teaching our children to make “everyday” courtesies more “everyday,” we teach them to respect others, which strengthens their connection to others and every community of which they are a part. After all, as McCullough writes, “Our lives are built one small brick at a time, ordinary day by ordinary day. With each little expression of thoughtfulness, we help create something of immense significance… a manner that acknowledges the worth of human beings.”