Respect for All People

Sarah Bowman
Sarah Bowman, Writer & Researcher, volunteer at Atheist Secular Humanism

The most important trait for a person to have is respect. Respect is larger than love because it encompasses love but does not demand emotional input where it is impossible. Let’s look at what respect is and is not.

Respect is not:

  • agreeing with another person’s beliefs and ideas
  • supporting another person’s beliefs and ideas
  • flattering another person, telling them how great they are
  • telling another person how much you respect them
  • telling another person how much you think of them

Respect is:

  • treating another person with dignity, whether or not you think they deserve it
  • being polite to another person, no matter how they treat you
  • treating another person’s ideas as decent even though you find them disgusting or stupid
  • treating another person’s beliefs as reasonable even though you disagree strongly
  • treating all people as your equal because they are human, regardless of their beliefs, lifestyle, ethnic background, skin colour, or other differences from yourself.

The dictionary definition of respect:

Respect is a way of treating or thinking about something or someone. If you respect your teacher, you admire her and treat her well.

People respect others who are impressive for any reason, such as being in authority — like a teacher or cop — or being older — like a grandparent. You show respect by being polite and kind. (Emphasis mine.)

I disagree with the need for feeling admiration because this is not always possible. However, I agree with the first sentence, that respect is a way of treating or thinking about something or someone. It is usually possible to muster empathy, and sometimes even love.

Christians like to say, “Hate the sin but love the sinner.” That is not respect because it labels the person negatively. It judges the person as being bad. Respect says, “I disagree.” Judgment says, “You are wrong.”

“I disagree” respects the other person’s right to personal beliefs and opinions. It leaves room for the possibility that in the cosmic order of things I am wrong.

“You are wrong” denounces the other person’s right to personal beliefs and opinions. It elevates my abilities to reason and know right from wrong to a superior level.

Having said all that, I believe in the rule of law, and in democratically elected officials to see to it.

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