Respect is a frequently used word, yet one wonders if its meaning has become lost. It is related to the cardinal virtue of justice, and it means speaking and acting according to our own and other’s rights, status, and circumstances.
Self-respect, as well as respect for others, are essential to fully living this virtue. Our self-respect lies in being a son/daughter of God, and we have fundamental human rights. Therefore, it is essential to know we can and should expect others to respect us.
Over twenty years ago, I was teaching sixth grade in Memphis, Tennessee, and had an amazing group of students from very diverse backgrounds. I had asked one of the boys to hand out the worksheets, and he proceeded to hand out the papers carelessly. When he reached the desk of one girl, she stopped him and firmly said, “You need to show me respect and hand the paper to me.” I carefully watched his reaction, and he immediately changed how he was handing out the papers to everyone.
This is one small example of how requesting respect had a ripple effect for good. I encourage you to keep this in mind as you strive to educate youth in virtue. Children have to learn to have self-respect as well as how to show it to other people. It begins in small ways—like handing out worksheets to their classmates—but these habits are fundamental to character formation.
Jesus taught this same lesson about honesty in the parable of the dishonest steward. “A person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great one” (Luke 16:10). We can undoubtedly apply this lesson to the virtue of respect and restore its true meaning.