Respect – lately, I’ve been thinking about this word. According to most dictionaries, it means having a high opinion, admiration, due regard, courtesy, politeness or honour for someone. Based on this definition, this thing called ‘respect’ – or coined as such in English – reflects the deepest form of understanding and acceptance of each of our places on earth as Human Beings. Respect is transcontinental and, by looking into all of the cultures our world is enriched with, it is easy to notice that we all have different ways of showing it. Some cultures bow half way to their waist, some don’t look directly in to another’s eyes and there are so many other ways of showing respect.

Growing up, we all learn that showing respect is mandatory and reflected in the way we extend greetings – predominantly to elders. It was reflected in the greetings by holding out the right hand supported by the left, or both hands together, by slightly bowing from the neck, and getting up from a seat in a public space or public transportation.

We often let elders kiss our faces multiple times, as they badger us with different formulations of the same questions – mostly related to our health and our family’s wellbeing. We would let them tell us the same stories over and over again as we spot the slight differences in the content or pick up on minor changing details. We would help them carry ‘stuff’ and execute their orders as we acknowledged their wisdom – received with age and not necessarily with institutionalised education. Am I wrong then to notice that this form of respect has somehow diminished over the years – if not to say it has become inexistent? Is it because we are so busy that we have become negligent of the respect due to the elderly?

That being said, respect is not solely reserved to the elderly, as it shouldn’t be, and it sure isn’t something that we choose to grant or not – right? Irrespective of the colour of our skin, social status, education level, origin, age and the list goes on, shouldn’t respect be granted on the simple and restrictive basis of Humanity (excluding Earth, Fauna and Flora)?

This thought was ignited by one of the writer’s at the International Writing Programme (the residency I am currently participating in) posts on Facebook. This writer, from Russia, was intrigued and amazed by the accessibility and convenience for the elderly and people with disabilities everywhere. From hospitals, University grounds, cafes, restaurants, boutiques, transportation and the pavements of the city. Every single building was erected in consideration of the elderly and people with disabilities. From dedicated parking, to hallways with ramps, wide elevator doors that take longer to close, accommodating seats and the list goes on.

Though it is unrealistic at this point for everything to be accessible for people with disabilities and convenient for the elderly at once – as that would require us to demolish and rebuild – should we not consider building more inclusive and convenient public spaces and services? Shouldn’t these issues become pre-requisite criteria in granting construction permits? Similar to fire exits, fire extinguishers, convenient stairways and electroluminescent exit lights in case power outage occurs? Is this not simply another form of showing respect?

We can openly discuss and explore the various ways we can be more respectful – from policy making to our day-to-day activities. From the cluster of stuff or trash outside our doorsteps (apartments or houses), garbage we discard on the streets, polite service and even standing up against any mistreatment we witness. What’s a greater form of respect than the one we show to others or for others?

I was recently told that an acquaintance had to yell for a minibus to stop in front of a police station to report physical abuse she spoke up against during the ride, while the remaining 13 people stayed quiet the entire time. The police took the appropriate measures against the pervert, of course, but why are we allowing anything to take away our humanity and the respect we owe one another? Isn’t respect for others also engrained in the solidarity that we should be compelled to show one another by the simple equation that we are all human after all?

How about the community committees that we have – whether they be idirs (traditional savings) or mahibers (social group gatherings). Are they simply in place to allow people to get together to eat and drink? I must admit they certainly do more than that, but for the sake of this argument, what if they could all put in place rules and regulations by which the community must treat the neighbourhood – use of common space, cleanliness, noise pollution etc.

Finally, though respecting time is a topic all on its own, we might as well throw that in the mix and briefly mention it. In the words of Johann Kaspar Lavater (Swiss poet, writer, philosopher) “The Great Rule of Moral Conduct […] is respect for time”. It is obvious that sometimes accidents happen where things are beyond our control, nonetheless isn’t the time we give it in depth thought? Wouldn’t applying all of the points, aforementioned in the definition at the beginning of this article, in all aspects of our day-to -day interactions make it a bit easier on us all?

By Christine Yohannes
Christine Yohannes writes about social change, performs at public events and conducts poetry workshops in schools. She has established a monthly event entitled “poetic saturdays” - a platform created to allow everyone the freedom of self-expression through art. She can be contacted at poeticsaturdays@gmail.Com

Published on Sep 20,2016 [ Vol 17 ,No 855]



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