On Respect

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Currently, I am 25. By the standards of many in the work force, I am young, inexperienced, and naive. “But I have worked in a university for five years. And for three years, I have been working on obtaining a Master’s degree in English Studies. Surely, these things must gain me some respect.” I can’t remember how many times I’ve said this to myself. And I never really liked it! I think this is one problem I have experienced as a young person: I have to justify myself, rattle off my qualifications, and assert that I have already worked for five years in a uni so that people would pay attention. I often feel undermined simply because I am too young.

In a traditional society such as mine, age — no matter what you do or how you think — gains you respect. The older person is always right. The older you are, the wiser you get. These are fallacies brought about by societal norms. And I think some things have to be said about these.

First: while it is true that more experience gains you more knowledge, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you gain more wisdom. It’s a cliche I know but one worth reiterating. Knowledge is simply an accumulation of information. Wisdom, on the other hand, comes from accepting new ideas, unlearning bad habits, being humble enough to admit that you are not always right, and more importantly, accepting that you are right because of what you know, not simply because of who you are. Sometimes people learn things, but they actually never really learn.

Second: you don’t simply gain respect because you’re older, but you gain respect because of what you do and who you become as you get older. Respect is not something you automatically deserve as you age. Sure, I will respect you because you are a human being and  you are entitled to your own opinions despite these being a product of your time. But please do not expect me to respect you or adore you or worship you or think you are a shining beacon of hope for humanity just because of your age. I find that the only people who deserve respect are those who do not demand it but earn it.

Third: please do not look down on me just because I am young, and trust me, I am not saying these just because you are older. There are a lot of people my age who also think too highly of themselves and who also believe that they deserve some respect because they have achieved so much in their youth. The point is, respect is never about age or knowledge or achievements. It’s about the way you act toward other people, the way you think, the way you do things. You may be right and you may have done much, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should be respected.

These reflections came as a result of (recently) working with people who are older than me. I mean no disrespect because I believe that is not the same as choosing not to give respect. I’m sure respect is a complicated issue because it involves power relations and social constructs. But it could also be as simple as being a decent human being. I’m sure to a certain degree we all deserve respect. After all, without the fundamental notion of respect for human life, we would all be living under anarchy. But, as I’ve previously mentioned, respect shouldn’t be something we demand because of petty reasons such as age or status or even our achievements. It is something we gain as a result of our daily/present actions.

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