Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Path to Respect

"Respect yourself"

"Respect the process"

"Respect your elders/teachers/parents"

"Respect the power of nature"

"With all due respect..."

"I get no respect"

"R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Find out what it means to me..."

At the word respect has sixteen definitions, eight as a noun, four as a verb, and four uses as an idiom. Almost every one of those definitions has multiple synonyms. According to the word originated between 1300-1350. Obviously, it is a hugely important word in the world and even more important concept. We could use it in almost any context we wish, and often do, as we see from the phrases above.

However with common usage comes overusage which is followed quickly by meaningless. Has the idea of respect become meaningless? Has commonality of usage led to a commonality of practice? Perhaps not.

We can look at the headlines and see pop stars disrespecting each other or football players complaining about a lack of respect because the quarterback only threw to them once. It is unfortunate these are the images many of our middle schoolers see each day when they go home because they distort the meaning of respect.

I think my favorite definition of the sixteen possible is this one:

esteem for or a sense of the worth or excellence of a person, a personal quality or ability, or something considered as a manifestation of a personal quality or ability.

So, in order to respect someone, we must identify a personal quality or ability of that person. If we teach our students to search for the worth of a person, we are teaching them how to respect a person. With the action of identification, we breathe meaning back into word respect.

We teach our students to always find the excellence in a person. This, I think, is a much more positive notion of respect. In situations where disrespect is shown, we can now have discussions searching for worth and excellence of the offended person. Teachers help students develop strategies and tactics for seeking quality or ability in a person. Most importantly we teach our students to find excellence within themselves.

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