Aretha Franklin’s 1967 hit song Respect is one of my favorites.

But have you noticed that the concept of respect has dramatically changed since 1967? It used to be that respect was something obtained through reputation or position, whether as a parent, a judge, the President, or whatever … it was earned. Nowadays it’s popular to think (or say) that respect is something that “everyone” is entitled to, regardless.

But is it?

Was Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist infamy entitled to respect? How about Bernie Madoff, O.J. Simpson, or Adolph Hitler? What about pedophiles, or that obnoxious neighbor who enjoys making people miserable? Is the politician you despise entitled to “respect?”

There is a difference between respect and civility. The cultural norms in a civil society encourage “civility” for all by discouraging violent, aggressive, rude, obnoxious, and offensive behavior. But, traditionally (and rightly), the normative standards of civil interaction do not impose unearned “respect.”

For a while, it was popular to believe that self-esteem was something that could be provided by others. But it can’t – it has to be earned and comes from within. Dignity is a respect of self, and respect is something that must be earned. The protect-feelings-at-all-costs theory did no favors for the maladjusted kids the pop-psych experiments produced.

Both the noun and the verb form of Respect come from “abilities, qualities, or achievements.”

But enablers of victim mentality have abandoned the traditional definition to say that everyone, by virtue of being alive, is entitled to respect (apparently regardless of their abilities, qualities, or achievements). And they are quick to claim woundedness from any perceived lack of respect. College campuses and other organizations are unwittingly contributing to this distorted view of respect by supplanting Civility codes with vague but mandated codes of “Respect.”

This more recent attempt to make everyone “equal” is troublesome for a couple of reasons. First, it dilutes the meaning of respect. If everyone is supposed to be respected, what incentive does that provide our children to act in ways that are worthy of, and earn them, respect? The fact that we were all the fastest swimmers in the womb is not a valid reason for being respected.

Second, when people (especially immature, impressionable people) are told that they are worthy of respect irrespective of merit, it not only provides them license to act in ways that are not respect-worthy but it also promotes feeling like a “victim” when they inevitably are not treated with respect. Instead of changing their behavior to warrant respect, they blame others for unfairly treating them “disrespectfully” (which is often defined as anything they don’t like).

Consider how many arguments, altercations, and even stabbings or shootings occur because people feel they were “dissed” or not given what they believe is “proper respect.” Gang and other subcultures place an amazingly high emphasis on respect (or, rather, “disrespect”). People are attacked and killed for even hints of disrespect, such as rebuffing sexual advances, disrespecting the fans of a band, or looking at someone the wrong way.

Words frame attitudes and emotions, so they do matter. We can do our part by distinguishing between civility, which should be expected in society regardless, and respect, which should be earned.


Supporting What?

Here’s a concept that runs counter to traditional thinking – so it might make some a little uncomfortable or ruffle a few feathers.

Before I broke my neck, I believed like most people that “support groups” would be good for anyone dealing with traumatic injury or severe adversity. But after I became paralyzed, I didn’t want anything to do with people in wheelchairs. That was primarily because they mainly seemed so negative or like, well, like victims. (I call the wheelchair section at games “the whiner section.”)

Although I write about my paralysis occasionally to make certain points, my “disability” is not at all how I define myself. I decided long ago that I wanted to remain the same guy I was before I broke my neck, grow from there, and never be defined by the things I can’t do.

I’m a man with all kinds of things to get done who just happens to be inconvenienced by some paralysis. I don’t describe myself to others as “a quadriplegic,” I’m a man of faith who is a lawyer, and an investment banker. If I have to describe myself physically, I say, “I have quadriplegia.”

I  don’t find “commonality” with others who have disabilities. Scooter and Rick are buddies that just happen to have disabilities too, but we’re not friends because we share “common struggles” or any of that bull (you know, the “misery loves company” mindset).

They say “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Why pick people who are downers? I know, I know, there are exceptions. But “support groups” aren’t my idea of happy, positive people gathering to celebrate all the great things life has to offer. When you want to throw a great party, how often do you think, “hey, let’s invite some support groups?”

Now, I’m not talking about groups that focus on something positive or groups like AA or others that help people stay sober or get past something traumatic, but forming bonds over commiserating doesn’t seem to me to be a good idea. Wouldn’t it tend to disincentivize moving beyond the misery? And if it promotes finding an identity in something that is or is perceived as a negative, isn’t that finding comfort in woundedness? Plus it’s focusing on a negative.

I don’t want any of that. I’ve got too much to do, and there’s so much about life to embrace!

The Source of Expectations

There’s an old joke, “The number one cause of divorce is marriage.”

Along those same lines, the number one cause of disappointment is expectations.

In today’s culture, people seem to feel they are “victims” if their expectations are not met.

For example, people expect to find a job after graduation to pay off the debt incurred in college. But, for many, if those expectations are not met, they blame everyone but themselves, including the companies that did not hire them or their college. Some even file lawsuits for tuition reimbursement and stress damages when they cannot get a job to which they think they are entitled. And some say college tuition is not fair, so they want everyone else to pay for it. This is classic victim mentality.

Often, expectations are based on a sense of fairness. The amorphous goal of “fairness” is impacted by the redefinition of a common term that that many mistakenly believe is a human “right.”

The term “equality” is thrown around by politicians, media talking-heads, special-interest advocates, and “social justice warriors” as though we have rights to equal outcomes or equal standards of living (not equal rights to pursue happiness).

Our Declaration of Independence affirms “that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” But nowhere do our Founders guaranty “equality” as a right, either in treatment, opportunities, or in results.

The original concept of equality stems from the Founders’ rejection of the once ingrained belief that the ruling-class aristocracy had superior rights because they were chosen by God. America’s only guarantee of equality is equality in the eyes of the law.

The Fourteenth Amendment contains a clause that reads “no state shall . . . deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws” (Lawyer’s note: Our jurisprudence interprets that to mean the federal government as well as states). This is the part of the Constitution that is misconstrued to give people false expectations of “equality” in something more than equal status in terms of the law.

You probably already understand this, but many people do not because the politicians, advertisers, advocates, and media folks who benefit from enabling the victim mentality have long promoted the false notion that people are denied “fairness” if they don’t have “equality” in whatever they think they’re entitled to (this also leads to people making up “rights”).

Unfortunately, this is exacerbated by a couple of factors. Many years ago the ridiculous narrative of “every opinion is valid” began to take root. People actually believe that nonsense, and the so-called “political correctness” that avoids “offending” anyone has substantially curbed the normal socialization effect of letting people know when their ideas are just plain dumb.

People even ignore things like the colossal failures of socialism and communism in favor of their opinions that “fair” distribution of wealth and assets by ruling-class elites should work, despite the abundant historical evidence of disincentive to produce, massive corruption, and genocide. Even to the point where an avowed socialist (who used to say he was a communist) can be a contender for president because enough people feel they are victims of their unmet expectations.

Understanding that life is not fair, and that human expectations of “fairness” will inevitably lead to disappointment, is a helpful perspective for avoiding the victim mentality.

Those with that outlook are extremely fortunate.