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Remember the song “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” recorded by Aretha Franklin in the mid-1960s? Although it was originally recorded by Otis Redding, Aretha modified the song to fit her style, and it became an even bigger hit. Matter of fact, the song turned out to be Aretha’s signature song. Reba McIntyre recorded it years later, but no one can touch the popularity and passion of Aretha’s version.
The time of Aretha’s release was a tumultuous time and marked one of many of America’s growing pains. Depending upon to whom you talk, the song is either about the women’s liberation movement, the Black freedom struggles, or a person seeking simple human dignity.
Before we continue, let’s look at the definitions of “dignity” versus “respect.” Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines dignity as “the quality or state of being worthy, honored, or esteemed.” It is a person’s inherent value as perceived by self and others. Merriam-Webster defines respect as “considered worthy of high regard.” It is the admiration and esteem we feel for others.
I believe dignity is an inner feeling. I believe dignity is what one thinks of himself or herself and that dignity is closely related to self-esteem/pride. I believe respect is something we should offer to our fellow man. However, I also believe for him/her to keep the respect offered it must be reinforced and earned by actions.
But, back to Aretha’s song. I believe she (in the song) is simply a person who has dignity, self-esteem and pride; and, therefore, is demanding respect because she feels she has earned it through her actions.
Growing up in Coosa County, I was taught to offer respect. Respect to elders, respect to people in positions of authority and respect to people in general for simply being a fellow human being.
Once offered, it was up to the person through his/her actions as to whether that respect was to be continued. However, regardless of their actions, it still didn’t give me the right to be nasty, obnoxious, or mean. I was to have enough self-respect and character, as my grandmother would say, “to not stoop to their level.”
In today’s society, not only in America but also the world, much of that seems to have changed. Everyone demands respect from others but offers none. It seems people often think “self” is all important, and everyone else lacks the basic qualities that would cause us to be cordial and respectful.
For example, we see many circumstances on the news that the first thing people do when meeting law enforcement is to challenge the officer, refuse to cooperate, or just be belligerent and nasty. We see people in fast food restaurants dragging people over the counters because their French-fried potatoes were not hot enough. We see people in department stores having brawls over the last toaster oven on the shelf. We see people looting stores in broad daylight because they believe they have the right to take whatever they want because “I am me, and I am entitled.”
We are even seeing first-hand what happens when countries have no respect for the borders of their neighboring countries. In 1939, Winston Churchill in a speech said, “That long [Canadian] frontier from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans, guarded only by neighborly respect and honorable obligations, is an example to every country and a pattern for the future of the world.” Neighborly respect applies to our everyday life, not just bordering countries.
I believe much of our societal shortfall, or downfall as some might say, stems from a lack of respect. Lack of respect for our fellow man. Lack of respect for our country. And sadly, a lack of true respect for self. This is shown by demeanor, actions and dress. We see reality shows that totally focus on belittling, mistreating and bullying others. These are the shows our society is watching and having shape our behavior.
We see people in all types of public places arriving late for appointments, having a don’t care attitude and even wearing pajamas. We need to return to the days when society demanded respect for others and for authority. We need to teach our children to be courteous and respectful of others and their property. We need to teach our children to be respectful of self instead of being self-absorbed. We need to teach that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity. If only we could get a little old-fashioned neighborly respect, society would improve tremendously.
However, we can’t start teaching these things until our societal attitude of “me first” changes. George Santayana; a Spanish-American philosopher, essayist, poet, novelist, and Harvard professor; said, “Perhaps the only true dignity of man is his capacity to despise himself.”
I pray we have not gotten to the point we despise ourselves so much that we can’t have respect for others. We need to be more like Aretha and demand a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T for each other and not accept it when people are just naturally belligerent and disrespectful. Until we change our acceptance of the lack of respect being displayed and demand more, nothing will improve.