Young people say that respect is vitally important and is something they don't get much of from adults generally, and specifically from teachers, parents, police, and policy-makers.
I would say that a lack of respect seems to be the underlying cause for virtually every societal problem -- youth violence, teen pregnancy, school dropout, discrimination and prejudice against people of various ethnicities, religions and sexual orientation, gangs, bullying, social and civic disengagement and disconnected, and so on.
So why aren't we talking more about the importance of respect in society?
Going as far back as Thomas Jefferson and the constitution, the respect of individual rights is described as a fundamental virtue of the constitution and a moral imperative for democracy. Yet there is relatively little research about how children and youth become respectful. How does it play out between people of different ages, ethnicities, and roles? When and under what circumstances is reciprocal respect expected or required? How can we increase respect among our fellow human beings? Many seem to agree that it is a learned attitude and behavior shaped initially in the home and reinforced by society and media.
So what can one do to instill or increase intentional respectfulness?
Programs and interventions designed to teach respect all seem to believe that respecting others begins with respecting one's self. While one could imagine a young person with low self-worth speaking and behaving respectfully, it seems a good place to start. The ability to view things from another person's perspective -- often called role-taking ability -- seems a prerequisite. It provides a foundation for recognizing that even though others may not have identical perspectives, experiences and beliefs, they have value. Respectful relationships are built upon courteous communication and teamwork skills, patience and trust, and the humility and understanding that comes from admitting mistakes, apologizing, learning from experience and moving forward.
Ultimately, respect or the lack thereof underlies not only negative youth outcomes, but is at the core of all relationships. This is true not only between people who are thought to be somehow different from another (age, race, socio-economic status, rural/urban, sexual orientation, religion) but also among people who don't have any obvious categorical differences, whether in the work place among co-workers, between family members, neighbors, etc.
How does respect play out in your program, in your organization, in how you vote? How is it that such an important human characteristic garners so little research? What have you found useful in teaching and learning about respect?
-- Rebecca Saito, senior research associate
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