A few weeks ago I was negotiating a plea agreement with an assistant district attorney in a criminal case. The attorney said she does not respect a man who wouldn’t argue or stand up to her. The comment was not directed at me, but it bothered me and I don’t know why. After all, hadn’t I grown up hearing that respect was always earned? Something about it stuck with me. I always sought to negotiate for my client to achieve the best result, but also the fair and just result. I don’t believe a good lawyer gets you off of a crime, but rather gets you the help you need to change your life. My job is to look out for your present and your future. If you get a client out of one crime only for them to turn around and commit another, have you really helped them? So, here I was, cooperating with the opposing attorney, trying to help my client, and because I was polite they may not respect me?
This past weekend I attended the City Pres. Men’s retreat. This year’s theme focused on what it was to be a man. We asked the question, “what is manhood in modern society?”. As our speaker discussed the journey men must take, I couldn’t help but return to considering the idea of respect. Respect is something we, ourselves give. Should respect really be earned first or should it be given freely?
As the saying goes, respect is earned, not given. For some reason, this bothers me. This kind of respect is based in fear. When respect must first be earned, nobody automatically receives respect. Respect is given when we deem a person proves themselves worthy. Respect is then determined by our expectation. Respect became a matter of comparison whereby one exalts himself above others. We respect those who scare us, who can hurt us, or who can leave us. We respect a stronger man because he can harm you. We do not respect a weaker man because he can not. Respect which is earned is self-driven. Therefore, when respect is earned we acknowledge the other person holds some kind of power over us.
I think we have it wrong. Respect should be given, freely. Jesus gave respect even to those who did not earn it, or worse – lost it. He respected the sinners, brought tax collectors into his inner circle, refused to stone prostitutes, sought the poor, the sick, the needy. We should love our neighbors as ourselves. Since we are each ourselves deserving of respect, so too is everyone else. If we give respect freely to others, regardless of whether they deserve it, is out of love not fear. We see others as God’s creation. In choosing to give respect, we recognize the person may not meet our expectations. We are forced to humble ourselves, to set aside our expectations, and to love the person God created. Not everyone will do things the way I will. Some people will not agree with me. They may be wrong. I may be wrong. I need to respect them nevertheless.
If I seek to love others, to trust God, to love the poor, the helpless, the worst of us, then my respect must be given not earned. When I do this I don’t just love them, but I love God.