“Respect is Earned, Not Given”

It’s been a long time since I was in elementary school. I mean, not INCREDIBLY long, but still a long time for me. So, time may have skewed this memory, but I seem to recall there being a motivational poster in one of my various elementary classrooms that said something to the effect of “Respect is Earned, Not Given.”

I’ve been thinking about respect a lot lately–mostly because of my incredibly awful boss. This poster memory keeps popping up in my head and I’ve got a lot of thoughts about it.

First off, the motivational poster being in an elementary setting is major bullshit. Thinking about it in that context, it just seems like an excuse for teachers to treat kids like bratty morons while demanding respect from them. That may be incredibly pessimistic, but I’m very aware of how many adults view children in terms of respect for their autonomy/independence/personhood, and it usually doesn’t look good.

Furthermore, I disagree with the poster in principle. 

I give respect pretty freely. My husband pointed out that there’s somewhat of a difference between respecting someone and showing them respect. I show almost everyone respect, but I also actually respect most of them, too. It’s sort of default for me. Everyone is their own person and until someone specifically earns my disrespect, they have my respect. Or at least my neutrality towards their lives. But to me that’s also a form of respect: just leaving people the hell alone.

For me, respect for living beings is default. Disrespect is earned, and usually justly so.

Then there’s people like my boss, one of the two Assistant Managers. She’s the type of person who sort of demands respect even when she really, really doesn’t deserve it. Well past the point of having earned everyone’s disrespect, as a matter of fact.

It’s beyond simply not liking her. She’s a bully. She’s abusive. She gets in shouting matches with Team Members and forces them into conflict with each other and constantly doles out microaggressions. She tries to undermine other people who are in relatively threatening positions, like her fellow Assistant Manager.

Yeah, definitely not the kind of person who should have been promoted. She was bad enough when she was “Shift Leader” on my shift. (Did I mention that now that she’s off my shift, she’s adamant that there’s no one in charge on it? Yeah.)  The question is: Will my area manager come to his senses and demote her? Only time will tell.

Anyway, point being, I give out respect until it’s specifically been un-earned. Anyone who acts like they don’t have to respect someone until they’ve “earned it” is a shitty person. #generalizations

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2 thoughts on ““Respect is Earned, Not Given”

  1. I always had it classified as having a default level of “professional respect”. Now maybe that’s job-centric and could be broadened to simple respect for other individuals you meet anywhere.

    That respect can be lost by doing a terrible job in your case. Or being rude to me in public in the second case. Respect can be earned by doing a good job or being an awesome human being stranger.

    So in a limited sense, the poster is right. But on the surface and probably generally it’s taken wrongly. Not that I know the mind of the creators.


    1. I see “professional respect” tying in with “showing someone respect”. Like, of course you’re going to start from a position of respect in a professional environment, but I would hope others start from there with everybody, as I do.


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