“Good name in man and woman, dear my lord, Is the immediate jewel of their souls: Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing; ’twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands; But he that filches from me my good name Robs me of that which not enriches him, And makes me poor indeed.” - Iago, from "Othello" (Act III, Scene III)
This line from Shakespeare’s “Othello” is from a man trying to subtly deceive the leader of the army into thinking that his wife is sleeping with his right-hand man, Cassio.
In the play, Iago is not coming right out and saying it, but he’s using just enough words to create doubt. His reasoning is that he doesn’t want to hurt Cassio’s good name, and ultimately, that a man’s reputation is his most valuable asset.
The quote underlines a shared trait among all living organisms. A need that differentiates us from mindless robots, programmed to eat and work for the small time we have on this big rock we call Earth. It is life at its most basic. The only measure of happiness that matters.
Everybody wants to be respected.
Respect is why the star football player is the most popular person on campus, rather than the best-performing student. Loss of respect is why the breakup hurts and why people are willing to stay in abusive relationships. It’s why there are mid-life crises. Desire for respect is what drives people to become famous and what draws kids to a hero.
Friendships end because one person does not receive the respect he or she feels the other person should be giving. People gravitate towards those who will give them the respect they feel they deserve.
Respect in itself is an enigma – there’s no way of quantifying it (as much as we may try to with money), and though we can never get enough, we can never give enough, either. Yet, as the saying goes, respect must be earned, not given.
Therefore, we live to earn as much respect from our peers as possible – whether we realize it or not. We want to live as long as we can, have as much money or resources as possible and be entertained. We want others to desire our respect and create meaningful relationships with us. And ultimately, we want to carry on our personal lineage through our children.
The pursuit of respect is entrenched in every single thing we do. Think about it.
You ate something? You’re sustaining yourself. You went to work? You’re gaining resources. You called your parents to say hi? You’re keeping those meaningful relationships alive (or trying to gain more resource$). These examples might be a stretch… Let’s look at some more clear-cut applications.
Why do people cheat in relationships? It’s because the most meaningful physical relationship possible is through sex. When a current relationship is losing its importance to us, or if a relationship with the new person would mean more (or would gain the respect of one’s peers), watch out.
When we’re drunk, we still know our basic desires, but our long-term thinking goes out the window. We prioritize what makes us feel respected in the moment. So when you’re wondering why he or she ran off with someone else, look at how respect (especially perceived respect, from you or from others) plays into the equation.
Why is there bullying? This issue has received a plethora of media attention over the past couple years. It’s a noble cause, but everyone just says “stop bullying” and doesn’t address the root of the problem.
First off, bullying will never truly go away. There will always be kids who pick on each other. They see opportunities to gain respect from other children and take them. Whether that be their strength and ability to push kids around, or their cooler toys (resources) that others don’t have, kids, like adults, will always see differences between them and others and make comparisons based on those differences.
Kids are more likely to make these differences known and turn it into a matter of respect. If we are truly to solve the bullying issue, we need to lessen the impact that disrespect from others has on children and build their self-esteem. We cannot force everybody to respect each other and we certainly cannot eliminate the differences between children.
But what we can do is build children up from the inside so that when another child is poking fun at their differences, they have the willpower and self-esteem to stand up for themselves, embrace their differences and not feel ashamed for being who they are.
Why is there racism? Simple: One person does not respect another simply because of the color of his or her skin. The response to it is a similar response to bullying.
We cannot truly end racism by forcing respect down peoples’ throats and giving certain people specific things only because of the color of their skin. That only accentuates differences and encourages more disrespect. What we can do is give people opportunities to earn that respect without regard to their race.
Why do people abuse drugs? Drugs, technically, are a form of entertainment. How valued that entertainment is to a person depends on what they are willing to give up for it. The harder the drug, the higher the high, which often leads to bigger consequences.
Obtaining and using drugs becomes an avenue through which one gains respect. Drug abusers are said to be trying to fill a void. But looking at it through the lens of respect shows that they are either trying to forget how disrespected they are, or trying to gain respect through a new avenue by appearing “cool.”
People become addicted to drugs for the same reasons they will stay in bad relationships -- they feel like they are more respected with them than they would be without them.
It’s a deceptively simple premise, but looking at life through the lens of respect gives a lot more insight into the motivations and reasons why people do what they do. We don’t have to agree with each other. We don’t have to be nice to each other. We don’t even have to like each other.
However, if we respected each other a bit more, and made that respect known, we could catalyze real, positive change in our world.
Photo via Tumblr