Respect for Others

Respect for others includes recognition of their equal membership of the same society and their equal negotiating rights within it.

The term ‘respect’ has several meanings.  It is used here in its sense of behaviour which acknowledges the equal status of other people, and which therefore avoids antagonising them.  It requires the following types of behaviour:

●  It includes treating other people as equals when meeting them and in conversation: avoiding any assumption of superiority on the basis of nationality, race, creed, gender, sexual orientation, health, wealth, class or education. Each of these potential dividing lines has been problematic at some times and in some places, but none is defensible.  The Black Lives Matter protests were described by Myisha Cherry as being “not anti-American, but as American as one can get”.  She observed that:

“Protesters’ anger signals that Black folks have moral worth and should be respected.”

●  It requires the avoidance of contemptuous or dismissive behaviour which is likely to offend.

●  It is necessary to acknowledge other people’s right to hold different views. Whilst one may not agree with these views, they appear to be valid to the people who hold them – so any assumption of superiority is inappropriate.  All human beings have only a partial understanding of the universe, and it can be viewed from different perspectives, so nobody is entitled to claim complete wisdom.

●  It is necessary to respect appointed authorities. This means obeying the instructions given by people whom society has formally appointed to positions of authority, within the scope of their authorisation.  The scope for face-to-face disagreement with an official who is performing a function should be limited to polite questioning of that individual’s interpretation of the function.  Challenging the official is very rarely the best way of challenging the nature of the power relationship which led to the individual’s appointment.

●  It is also necessary that officials treat people with respect: as customers (who, in the case of public servants, are also collectively their employers).

None of these types of respectful behaviour imply esteem for other people’s merits or approval of their views – which would be impossible in a pluralist society.  Everyone is entitled to be treated with respect, without necessarily agreeing with each other.



This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/4423.htm