Respect: a two-way road

RESPECT comes from a genuine intention to express appreciation for someone’s abilities, values and actions. Meanwhile, there exists another take on respect that is authoritarian and status-based, derived either from a hierarchical position or age seniority.

The kind of respect that is instructed and demanded can be argued to be a manipulation of fear and compliance.

In my opinion, respect can be gained from one’s status to a minor extent; it ultimately depends on how deserving someone is or the actions he has taken to truly determine if he has earned the right to be regarded with true respect.

It is the norm within collectivist Asian communities to place large emphasis on hierarchy based on age and status.

For those of us who have grown up in Asian households, the concept of respect is constantly reinforced in the form of kowtowing physically and mentally to elders through respectful actions.

Within the family, respect is closely tied to filial piety where parents, grandparents, older siblings, and older family members have to be treated with respect proportionate to their age and relationship closeness to us.

In the school setting, teachers and senior students are also typically shown more respect.

From this perspective, respect based on seniority holds significance in Asian cultures where one’s status and age grant the person automatic rights to respect.

We are also expected to show respect for our elders as a reflection of our own manners and parental upbringing.

Culturally-driven, status-based respect is only a minor, superficial aspect of the discussion as a whole. It should be honoured where possible and within reason.

Ultimately, true respect has to be earned through proving oneself, regardless of status or position. The foundation of one’s humanity stems from one’s values and personal qualities, through which one earns respect. If that foundation lacks solidity, no status-driven “respect” can be built upon it.

If someone cannot be respected as just a person regardless of status, power or ability, it is difficult to respect him as a parent, teacher, boss, president – you get my drift.

Let me offer an example: In school, teachers are generally deserving of respect due to their noble profession and status within the school.

Let’s say hypothetically, there is a teacher who has a reputation for speaking condescendingly towards students, being intentionally discouraging or showing arrogant behaviour. The only “respect” that teacher is going to receive will be fear-based, reluctant compliance.

Status-based respect is also limited by abilities. Have you encountered people in powerful positions and, after observing their performance, wondered: How did they get the positions in the first place?

Achieving any kind of position is dependent on hard work and one’s capabilities to climb up the ladder. Dedication, reliability and even people skills are crucial for someone to gradually earn others’ trust in their abilities and deservingness of position or recognition.

Presidents and leaders of co-curricular clubs and societies, much like bosses and managers in the workplace, are supposed to lead and empower their members.

But if the leaders produce incompetent work, are tardy and condescending, there is bound to be quite a number of raised eyebrows, and even resistance or defiance from the other students.

More importantly, I believe that respect is a two-way road. Beyond everything else, a person who does not respect others is undeserving of true respect.

True respect is not necessarily based on status, so earn respect by respecting others and treating them well. In the end, it all comes back to the concept: treat others how you want to be treated.

Jaclyn, 20, a student at Heriot-Watt University Malaysia in Putrajaya, is a participant of the BRATs Young Journalist Programme run by The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (NiE) team.

This article is part of an assignment given to the participants based on the character building topic of respect featured in the NiE pullout this Wednesday.

For information on NiE subscription, call the toll free number 1-300-88-7827 (Monday to Friday, from 9am to 5pm), or go to

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