What is respect?
Respect is defined as “a feeling of admiring someone or something that is good, valuable, important” and also as “a feeling or understanding that someone or something is important, serious, etc., and should be treated in an appropriate way.” While these two definitions may seem to be two ways of saying the same thing, I feel that the first definition keys in on respect being given to those who have earned it by their physical or mental abilities, while the second one focuses more on respect being due to people simply because of their dignity as a human being.
Many people find the first definition more palatable and withhold their respect for someone unless they admire them or see something that is good valuable and important in them. Respect within the family, and indeed within a Christian Culture, should be more closely identified with the second definition in which people are viewed as important and should be treated in an appropriate way. By virtue of each of us being created in the image and likeness of God, we have an inherent dignity and since we are adopted sons and daughters of the Almighty, we have an inherent greatness that is not diminished by what we can or cannot do. Respect is nothing something that is earned, it is something that should be given out of love for one another. The child who throws temper-tantrums and the elderly who have lost touch with reality should be shown the same respect as we show to the able minded and physically capable person whom we interact with professionally on a daily basis. The difference between the two is that when we show respect to the young or the elderly we are being selfless and cannot expect much in return for our kindness.
Within the Context of the Family
There is a lot of talk about respect these days; people demand it, and I would propose that far less give it or perhaps even know what it is. When you think of respect within your family you probably think about how you desire it from your teenagers. Respect is an essential ingredient of a holy family, and therefore each family member must seek to understand it, expect it, and give it. This can only be done by example. Words like the ones I am writing may help communicate the essence of respect to our children, but will fall on deaf ears if we do not provide a good example of respect. Showing respect is difficult, especially within our own home, which is where our children will learn the most about what it means to be respectful. We can be perfectly respectful to our boss (if we work outside the home), to our pastor, the policeman, our co-workers, our friends, but our children will not often see these interactions. What our children will see is how we treat our spouse, our elderly family members and most importantly how we treat them.
Here are a couple of tips and tricks that may help you as you seek to be a consistent example of respect within your home. Dr. Ray Guardeni provides some great advice when he suggests that parents compare the way they speak to their children to the way they speak to their boss at work. His point is, if you wouldn’t talk to your boss, pastor or someone you hold in high esteem that way, they you shouldn’t talk to your children that way either. The problem is that often we treat the people that we are closest to with less respect primarily because we know that it would take quite a bit for them to stop loving us. Often we use that unconditional love as an opportunity for us to take out our frustrations on them and it has to stop.
Another helpful trick is to remember that we, too, have many flaws that we have tried to repair for many years and yet still struggle. Reflecting on this, we should give our children a little leeway as they struggle with keeping their room clean, doing their homework and chores without being asked, being nice to their siblings and speaking respectfully to their parents. It may take a while for them to get each of these important habits fully formed and they may fall often on their path towards full maturity. Our children are a great tool that God has given us to help us on our path to holiness. They will help us be more patient, more forgiving, more humble and more respectful. Some of us require more work in some of these areas, so don’t be surprised if you pray for patience and have a child that helps you work on that virtue several times a day. In a word, be humble and hopefully this increase in humility will help us to be a little less harsh and more respectful when helping our children to become mature adults.
Go Forth and Teach Respect
Remember our goal, we are seeking to form a holy family and the foundation of our family is love and mutual respect. It is not enough to demand respect from our children, we must also give it to them freely. Our children are born as empty slates and through their experiences in life, they become a fully formed human being, an adult. During these formative years our children encounter many people from whom they will learn what is right and wrong, how to treat each other and how to love one another. It was not enough for God to write a book for us to learn these things, He chose to send us His only Son to personally teach us these things, and Jesus chose to continue to teach the world with human beings through his Church. Holy men and women who have gone before us and some of whom are still alive today continue to inspire us to love and respect one another in a truly profound, godly manner. In a way that many of us may not fathom, we as parents have the ability to be this profound teacher of our children by our good example, but the opposite also holds true. Have you ever met a disrespectful child and wondered where he or she learned to be so disrespectful? Then you met that child’s parents and you knew beyond the shadow of a doubt where it came from.
With perseverance, respect can be taught within your family and not only will you enjoy respect within your home, but you will also be a light to those who come into contact with members of your family and are treated respectfully. Our world needs more respect and watching the nightly news and talk shows is not where people will learn it, in fact, they will many times be instructed in how to be disrespectful. Our world needs examples of respect for all human life, those unborn, those living and those nearing the end of their lives. The work we do within our families has a profound effect on the world in which we live, St. Josemaria Escriva said, “these world crises are crises of saints“. St. John Paul II that “The future of the world and the Church passes through the family” Familiaris Consortio #75. This task of creating an atmosphere of respect within our family will reach further than the walls of our homes, it will go out into our neighborhoods, our Churches, our cities and throughout our country. The family is mighty and has the ability to change the world.