In the Summer of 1965, Otis Redding released a song called "Respect." It hit number five on the "black charts," (yes, dear, that means what you think it does) and was Redding's second-most popular crossover hit.
If that's where the story ended, I imagine none of you would care.

The song caught the ear of a man named Jerry Wexler--a man who basically invented "Rhythm and Blues" on the studio/record production/marketing side of of the biz. This man was working with a young woman who had just signed with Atlantic records after a floundering six years at Columbia. In 1967, Aretha Franklin's cover reinvented the song as a black feminist manifesto, the song hit "#1" for seven weeks, and Rolling Stone named her the greatest singer of all time.

Respect. What does "respect" really mean to us? Where does our understanding of it come from? Dictionary definitions are one thing, but Aretha proved that it's more than just a word. It's a soul thing.

Do we learn it from our parents?

I listened to a talk radio program last night about spanking. One of the guests was convinced that spanking should be illegal, the other that parent should be able to do "whatever the hell they want with their own damn kids." (well, that's not what she said, but she might as well have...)

The side of the conversation that seems to have been missed entirely (I would have called in, but it was a re-run. The good shows always are.) was the question of respect. Not "what are we teaching our children about violence?" or "what are we teaching our children about personal accountability?"--those positions were well covered. I'm talking about real, honest, personal respect. Not respect for the institution of parenting, and not respect for the rules of behavior when we're at the grocery store, but a child's respect for a their parent as a person.

What does a time-out/meaningful-consequence approach teach about respect?
"I can't get away with everything; there are consequences to some of my desires."
This has nothing to do with respect for a parent.

Not that spanking is perfect--the kind of respect brought by physical assault is pretty flimsy by itself. Basically it's the respect of another person's ability to beat you, and only lasts as long as they're significantly bigger than you. Coupled with psychological intimidation, it makes for nothing better than bullying. Coupled with respect... well, I'm not saying you should spank your kids, just that I don't think you should not spank your kids for reasons of "fostering self-esteem and avoiding patterns of negative behavior."

I'm asking if we've actually got a handle on what's going on with the way we relate to people around us. Not just parents and children; what about police officers? What about politicians? When was the last time you saw a news story about a politician who had genuine respect for the people she represented? When was the last time you heard a student talk about the respect he had for a fair grade an instructor had given? When was the last time you heard someone talk about genuine respect for a clergyman? Even a grandmother? (Respect, we must remember, is not the same thing as affection.)

Respect. Hard to understand, even harder to come by.

"Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight."

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