There’s no doubt that respect plays a central role in our interactions with each other. But at the November meet up we also learned that respect affects the way in which we view ourselves.

We started by identifying different ways in which the word ‘respect’ is used. Normally, we use the word ‘respect’ positively. If I respect your courage or your work ethic, I’m approving of your qualities or approving of ways in which you’ve acted. But do we always mean something positive? Of course, calling Donald Trump “Mr President” might be a manner of demonstrating approval but it could be something quite different; perhaps I merely recognise a social tradition of approving the office of POTUS. Or, just as I could respect the sea without liking it one bit, perhaps I fear the power that goes with that station and am being appropriately wary.

So, it’s helpful to pick out which aspects of respect and disrespect are important in our daily interactions, at home and in the workplace. I recognise that some employees fear their bosses. But respect based upon fear looks incompatible with Ethical Reading’s goal of making Reading a better place to live and work. We’re much more interested in thinking about ways in which respect demonstrates approval or appreciation of a colleague’s qualities and how respect can enhance our relationships.

We learned something new at that meet up, myself included, when we thought about past cases of disrespect. In each instance, we noticed three things. First, that we were most likely to be disrespectful when we were under particular pressures. To give you an example, some people were tired after a long journey, while others were pushed for a deadline. Second, we felt that we had been disrespectful by treating someone in a way that they didn’t deserve. Finally, as soon as we had time to reflect, we reported feeling a dent in our self-respect. In other words, we hold ourselves to standards and approve of ourselves when we meet those standards.  When stress, tiredness and time pressures led us to act disrespectfully to others—to treat them in ways they didn’t deserve—we in turn felt that we had let ourselves down.

Feeling less self-respect is uncomfortable. So why don’t we simply give people the respect they are due? To answer this question, perhaps it’s useful to think about the root of the word ‘respect’. ‘Respect’ comes from the Latin, respicere, which means “to look again” or “look back at.” In stressful, busy times it is harder to take the time to recognise our colleagues’ efforts and feelings. Taking respect seriously prompts us to pause for a moment and look again. Doing so is better for us and more likely to promote harmonious relationships with those around us.

Dr. Charlotte Newey

Charlotte Newey spent over fifteen years in financial services before deciding to make a big life change. Swapping the office for the lecture theatre, she studied Philosophy at the University of Reading. She has since lectured at Cardiff University and the University of Warwick. Charlotte is delighted to be back at Reading, as a lecturer in Moral and Political Philosophy. Charlotte’s research interests include fairness, responsibility, equality, and poverty alleviation.