What’s the best way to satisfy our need for recognition?

Without feelings of respect, what is there to distinguish men from beasts? (Confucius)

Rodney Dangerfield is always complaining, “I don’t get no respect.” He isn’t alone. For great numbers of people are also craving respect. They want to validate their existence. They want to find a reason for living. So they chase after trophies, medals, plaques, awards, prizes, and fame. If they win recognition, they can then say, “Look! I’m special!” They need the recognition of their peers because of low self-esteem. Yet, after receiving congratulations on their achievements, they feel empty inside. They feel like fakes, not worthy of the acclaim. That’s because a sense of worthiness can only come from within.

What’s the best way to fill the void, satisfy our need for recognition, and reclaim our self-esteem? It is by consciously leading an honorable life. That is, it is by respecting others, by treating them with kindness, generosity, and compassion. When we do so, we will recognize our own worth. Also, if we lead virtuous lives, our actions will not go unnoticed. For as Eldridge Cleaver wrote, “Respect commands itself and it can neither be given nor withheld when it is due.”

Although virtue is its own reward and an honorable life will be recognized, our actions should be motivated not by our needs, but by the needs of those we choose to serve. Why do we act honorably? Because life is tough and others need our help. We act with honor not to receive honor, but to fulfill our potential and lead a meaningful life. I’m sure you agree with Plutarch who said, “We ought not to treat living creatures like shoes or household belongings, which when worn with use we throw away.”

Not everyone can be an astronaut, Prime Minister, or brilliant musical composer. However, everyone can be honorable. Those who clean toilets, flip hamburgers, or wait on us in restaurants can be decent human beings and, therefore, worthy of our respect. Those who are wise realize that it is not what we do, but what we are that counts.

Respect and the Family

Respect begins in the family and is important enough to be a commandment of God: “Honor thy father and thy mother.” (Exodus 20:12) Why is it so important? Because it’s the foundation of a stable society. First peace and harmony in the home, then in the community, finally in the world. Imagine all the problems we could solve if we respected one another. If all boys respected their mothers, would they grow up to be men that abandon the mothers of their children? If we respected our neighbors, regardless of their race, religion, or ethnic background, would there be so much bloodshed around the globe? If we respected others, would there be so many break-ins, assaults, rapes, and murders?

Where did we go wrong? It all starts at home. Parents are supposed to be role models for their children. They are supposed to teach respect by their example. They are supposed to earn the respect of their children. Yet, instead of being respected, children are slapped around, yelled at, told to shut up, disciplined, and treated as prisoners. Children have enough to contend with at school. They have to deal with bullies, thieves, drug pushers, lies, rejection, and jeers. Don’t you think they need a safe haven? A refuge where they will receive comfort, security, encouragement, and love? What a disappointment when they learn that instead of being picked up and embraced, they are dumped on by their own parents! How can they have respect for their parents? They can’t and they don’t. Not experiencing respect, they grow up to become coldhearted adults.

Parents should realize that peace and harmony in the family flow from respect, not from rules, discipline, orders, policy, and demands. They need to understand what Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “Men are respectable only as they respect.” Or what John W. Gardner wrote: “If you have some respect for people as they are, you can be more effective in helping them to become better than they are.”

The problem isn’t only between parents and children. It is also between husbands and wives. What happened to the vows they made to love, respect, and honor each other? Can respect coexist with snide remarks, cold looks, frowns, and complaints? Can children respect parents that do not respect each other? One’s spouse not only deserves the same respect that any human being is entitled to, but much more. If we are guilty of disrespecting a family member, we need to change our behavior, remembering that honor isn’t only about making the right choices; it’s also about taking responsibility for our actions. For the good of mankind, may we all succeed in leading honorable lives.