Sunday, May 22, 2005

The Declining Currency of Respect

I respect you so much. Really I do. It doesn’t matter whether I know you or not. I respect you anyway. Immensely. More than you’ll ever know. Maybe you verbally abuse your goldfish. Maybe you’re sexually attracted to orange Jell-O. Maybe you’re a hard core communist with a poster of Castro above your bed. Maybe you’ve got a foot fetish for George W. Bush. Whether you’re a heartless capitalist, a hopeless socialist, a brilliant scientist or an illiterate crack addict, it doesn’t matter. I’m a Canadian and I respect you. In fact, I respect everyone equally and unconditionally. It’s what being a Canadian is all about.

As you can probably tell, lately I’ve been thinking a lot about ‘respect’. And I’ve noticed one peculiar thing – everyone seems to believe that they are entitled to it. And more interestingly - everyone seems to believe that everyone else is entitled to it. You’ll notice I’m using the word ‘entitled’. That’s because ‘respect’ has almost become a Constitutional right here in politically correct Canada.

We used to have the right to be free from oppression, persecution and prejudice; free to pursue our dreams and aspirations. That’s more than what most people in the world have. But it wasn’t enough for us. We wanted more. We wanted the right to be respected. But not the kind of respect that we had to work for. Oh no. After all, that would require too much effort. What we really wanted was instant respect, the kind that required no sacrifice at all. The kind of respect that was given automatically, regardless of the character or quality of the person involved.

So, here we are today. Many Canadians believe that respect is a right. Everyone is entitled to be respected by everyone else. That is why I respect you so much, dear reader. It is your right to require me to do so. And who am I to deny you your rights?

OK, I’m being facetious. Sorry, but I’m not buying into this culture of instant respect entitlement. I think it’s a crock. A serious crock.

Now, let me be clear, I’m not talking about civility here, or courtesy. These are not the same as respect. Certainly we should always treat others with courtesy, or at least civility. What I’m talking about is something totally different. I’m taking about respect. Webster defines respect as ‘to consider worthy of high regard’. I can’t help but wonder: if being respected means being considered worthy of high regard, why do we feel it necessary to respect everyone regardless of whether they’ve done anything to be considered worthy of our high regard? After all, if everyone is held in high regard, then no one is. And if we claim to respect everyone, what is it we feel for the people we truly hold in high regard? It can’t be respect. In fact, it is almost insulting to say we respect them. After all, we’ve already given our ‘respect’ to everyone else.

These days, you don’t have to accomplish anything worthwhile to demand respect. And you don’t need to have any particularly redeeming personal qualities. It isn’t necessary to be a principled person, or a wise person, or a person who works hard. You can be an unprincipled, stupid, lazy bum and still have the right to demand respect here in Canada. All you need is a pulse, really.

Tell me, what is respect worth in a society where everyone with a pulse is entitled to it regardless of whether they’ve done anything to earn it? Nothing, that’s what. These days, respect is about as valuable and genuine as the warm, welcoming smile and friendly handshake of a used car salesman. Or, a hug from one hollywood star to another.

This culture of empty, meaningless, rhetorical respect is no more clearly demonstrated than in the words of Wendy Babcock, a representative of a group called ‘Sex Professionals of Canada’. Recently, Ms Babcock wrote a scathing letter to a Toronto newspaper, taking them to task over suggesting that her profession is not respectable. According to her, sex trade workers deserve to be respected the same as anyone else.

When I read this I didn’t know whether to laugh or sigh. Leaving aside the fact that a group called “Sex Professionals of Canada” deserves about as much respect as, say, a group called “Crack Retailers of Canada”, let’s look at the truth of the matter. First, they are not sex trade workers, they are hookers, or, more accurately, whores. Lets call a spade a spade, shall we? Second, respect should be something that is earned through one’s actions; something that is given to someone we hold in high regard. It is a privilege, not a right. However, Ms Babcock seems to believe that hookers should be respected simply because they are, in her words, someone's “daughters, friends, mothers, sisters, or girlfriends”.

Well, this works both ways. Hookers have sex with men, many of whom are married, for money. These men are someone’s, son, brother, father and husband. Do hookers really believe that they deserve respect from their client’s wives, children, families and communities? What planet are these people living on? I think we can all agree that hookers harm the community. Why should we respect people who harm the community? Personally, I have about as much respect for hookers as I do for the married men who use them. That is to say, very little.

And this is just a small example of the culture of meaningless, instant respect entitlement that we have created here in Canada. Even the whores demand to be respected. And they seem to have no clue whatsoever of how utterly ludicrous their demands are. Why should they? After all, we encourage them to feel entitled to respect by allowing them to demand it. No one ever publicly challenges them. No one has the guts. After all, anyone who would dare call a ‘Sex Trade Worker’ a whore would be denounced and shamed as sexist, intolerant, insensitive and mean-spirited by today's politically correct liberal media.

Anyway, if you want to advocate respect for hookers, you might want to make sure your husband or father hasn’t visited one. Otherwise, you might be a bit embarrassed.

In reality, what we should be doing is dismissing the ridiculous claims of hookers who feel that they are entitled to our respect. Because if we respect them, what do we call our feelings for our mate, our mentors or our parents? Do we call that ‘respect’ too? To what level of meaninglessness will we stoop when it comes to using the term ‘respect’?

It seems to me that if ‘respect’ is really about honoring people who we hold in high regard, we should stop using the word as a general descriptive term to express our feelings for everyone. Because, when we do, we lessen the meaning of the word. In fact, we diminish it to the point where it means nothing at all. And, unfortunately, that is where we are today in Canada. A word like ‘respect’, that once meant something very important, now means virtually nothing at all.


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