Student Essay:
A Respectable Man

By Benedict VanderVeen

Respect is a treasure not easily found.

True respect is a valuable and rare commodity in our culture today, and few people have much of it. It is not, however, similar to most goods: one cannot simply go to the grocery store and pick up some respect. Rather, to get respect, a person must first give respect to others. This can clearly be seen among your personal acquaintances. Think of someone who has no respect for anyone but himself. Do you respect that person? Does anyone? If so, is it respect stemming out of love, or is it servile respect, that is, respect brought about and controlled by fear? (As we will see later, it turns out that servile respect is not really respect at all; it is merely a look-alike.)

What is respect? Webster’s dictionary defines respect as “high or special regard.” Respect is not fear; nor is it self-interest. If you only follow someone because it benefits you in some way, whether that is access to the best friend group, a bigger paycheck, or some other good that you seek, then it is not possible that you truly respect that person. “High or special regard” for a person does not come about because of other benefits, so it is clear that if you respect a person, it is because of that person’s “self.” Respect is of a person, for a person, by a person. If you recognize the personhood of another, it becomes much easier to respect. Understanding that the people you come into contact with are unique and individual persons is a vital step toward respecting others.

It should be self-evident that respect is not merely a feeling: it is also an action. To truly respect someone, it is needful to show that person that they are respected. If you respect your teacher, but put no work into his or her class, you are wrong in thinking that you respect him or her. You cannot truly respect anyone without acting upon that respect. If you have trouble respecting someone, treat them as if you do; most likely, they will come to respect you in return, which will help you truly respect them.

Niccolò Machiavelli, a Renaissance philosopher, believed servile respect to be much more useful than the respect we are concerned with here. However, Machiavelli’s most famous work, The Prince, has been questioned for centuries, and with good reason, as it advocates for leaders to use a certain amount of cruelty to gain and maintain power. It is important to understand that, although people with power often are respected, there is no guarantee, and the respect can quite often be the wrong kind.

He who feels the respect which is due to others cannot fail to inspire them in regard to himself, while he who feels, and hence manifests, disrespect toward others, especially his inferiors, cannot fail to inspire hatred against himself.

Conversely, think of George Washington. Every American loved him, and history tells us that he was a respectful gentleman. The politicians of today are almost invariably hated by half the country—which half of the country varies, but the reason does not. Our government leaders have lost any respect they had for their opposition. Imagine what our country could be like if only our leaders had more respect for each other! What would a presidential debate be like without yelling arguments?

The Chinese have a word, lao (老), that is a term of respect for the elderly. It is used as a title, almost like Mr. or Mrs. in our language. We have no word like this, which is unfortunate, because the elderly truly deserve so much respect. They have lived long, seen much, and suffered much, and for this alone deserve deference from younger people. Instead, many older people feel lonely and unwanted, simply because young people, especially family members, seem to have no time for them. To give elder people time is to give them your respect. Respect goes both ways; in return, they will respect you, and you will be the better for it.

Respect is a rather complicated topic, and can be quite difficult to put into action. There are many people who deserve truck-loads of respect, including the elderly, and people in authority, but everyone deserves respect insofar as that person is a unique, individual human being. Tragically, many people do not receive the respect they deserve, but, often enough, it is because of respect’s reciprocal nature. If people do not give respect, then they are given none in return. Servile respect, or, respect as a result of fear, does not fit into the category of true respect because it lacks the right reason. Respect can only come in one kind, which is as an action done by a person and for a person.


Benedict VanderVeen is a 17-year-old senior from Milan, MI. He attends the Christ the King Homeschool Co-op and loves to study philosophy and theology. He loves to run cross-country, drink herbal tea, and read great books, and is considering a pre-medical degree at the undergraduate level.

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Published on 11th March, 2022.

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