Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Aretha Franklin wanted it. Rodney Dangerfield never got any of it. What is it? Respect.

Rodney used to say:
"I don't get no respect. I told my landlord I want to live in a more expensive apartment. He raised the rent!"
"I tell you, I got no respect, even as a kid: we'd play hide-and-seek, and nobody would look for me."
"I get no respect at all. My dog keeps barking at the front door. He doesn't want to go out. He wants me to leave."
While the jokes are funny, showing disrespect isn't. As I watched the news during the past month, "respect" kept popping into my head. It led me to think of the way some students acted when I was teaching.

Some had no respect for themselves. They used drugs, tobacco, and alcohol. They were promiscuous. They cheated in their school work. They broke the law.

Some had no respect for others. They bullied and harassed classmates. They physically hurt others. They were mentally and physically abusive to their boyfriends or girlfriends or parents. They would talk behind their friends' backs.

Some had no respect for property. They would write in their textbooks or damage them. They would purposely destroy drinking fountains or faucets or toilets. They would use permanent markers on walls or paint graffiti on buildings. They would kick walls or doors or desks.

Some had no respect for authority. They would talk back. They would do eye-rolls or laugh when corrected. They were openly defiant.

If this lack of respect had just been attributed to the "problem" children, I guess I might have understood. Unfortunately, it was often the better students; the ones you thought were "nice," who secretly did the bullying, the cheating, the drinking and drugs, the damage to property, and the talking behind one's back. They were pleasant to their friends and teachers to their faces, but would later ridicule or complain about those friends and teachers to their parents or other friends.

I often wondered how this lack of respect developed. What made them like this? Then I thought about what has happened throughout American history. When the country was first settled, there was no respect for Native Americans. As the country grew, there was no respect for the slaves. As industry flourished, there was no respect for laborers who eventually had to form unions. There has been no respect for the environment and that has led to global warming. There has been no respect for the land and that has led to dumping of sewage and toxic chemicals. There has been no respect for animals that have been hunted to near extinction. The prisons are full of people who have had no respect for other people's property or lives. They are full of people who've shown no respect for themselves by using illegal substances. They are full of people who have cheated, scammed, or otherwise taken advantage. I'm beginning to think that such lack of respect is inherent and pervasive.

As I watched the town hall meetings this last month, I saw a lack of respect I could not have imagined. When parents and grandparents show such behavior, what can we expect from the children? I could not believe they would shout others down. Freedom of speech isn't just for your point of view; it means the other person with the other point of view has a freedom of speech, too. We may not like their point of view, and we may try to persuade them to see our side of things, but we must at least let them speak, just as we would expect them to let us speak.
"Respect means listening until everyone has been heard and understood, only then
is there a possibility of "Balance and Harmony..."
Dave Chief, Grandfather of Red Dog (Oglala Sioux)

The dictionary defines "respect" as a "sense of the worth or excellence of a person, a personal quality or ability, or something considered as a manifestation of a personal quality or ability." It also means "deference to a right, privilege, privileged position, or someone or something considered to have certain rights or privileges; proper acceptance or courtesy; acknowledgment." (

"Respect" is also one of the six pillars of Character Counts (a widely used program to build character in students The principles of "respect" according to Character Counts are:

* Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule
* Be tolerant of differences
* Use good manners, not bad language
* Be considerate of the feelings of others
* Don’t threaten, hit or hurt anyone
* Deal peacefully with anger, insults and disagreements

I think we all need to study the definition of "respect," learn the principles from Character Counts, and start practicing them in our every day lives.

Rodney Dangerfield jokes from:,

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