Five Basic Principles of Respect

Respect is a concept that we often take for granted, but seldom reflect on.  However, we often feel the effects of a lack of respect: on the road, at work, or even in our own homes.  Generationally, we often note that children seem to be generally less respectful, especially with the increase of school violence, gang activity, and bullying.

It is therefore valuable to look at the issue of what respect really is and how we can better implement it in our lives.  I have outlined five basic principles which—I think—start to define and describe the fuller meaning of this word.

  1. Respect is the “I-Thou” relationship, love in its highest, purest, most effective form.
  2. Respect is not fear-based, cannot be demanded, but is freely given, based in positive regard.
  3. Respect is a combination of action, attitude, and an open-minded perception of the world, seeing the best in others rather than the worst.
  4. Respect is the active ingredient at the center of an individual’s dignity, integrity, and spirituality.
  5. Respect is a basic, pivotal component in the determination between functional and non-functional social system.

The first principle speaks to the quality of relationship, mentioning Buber’s “I-Thou” conceptualization of the ideal moments in relating. It is in the most present and selfless awareness of another that we are able to experience love in its truest form.

The second principle is necessary for the first to exist. Fear is really the antithesis of respect and disallows respect to be authentic. To demand respect is to destroy it. Symmetry and mutuality replace hierarchy in instances of true respect.

The third suggests that respect is multi-dimensional, combining open-minded perception with proactive behavior seeking positive interactive outcomes universally.  It is not stagnant, but fluid, constantly evolving throughout our lifetimes.

Respect needs to come from a place of authenticity and symmetrical balance to have any true validity. (1)

Respect validates who we are at the core. The fourth principle suggests that respect is at the center of one’s dignity, integrity, and spirituality. To respect oneself is to pursue, develop and energize those inner values we hold precious. “Love one another as you love yourself,” implies that self-respect is a prerequisite to respecting others.  Genuine self-respect, then, is a primary building block in the ability to have healthy, respectful relationships in all facets of our lives.

Finally, the last principle points out that respect cannot be just an individual activity, but to sustain and grow it must be inherent in the larger systems of our lives, family social networks, community, nationally and internationally. Universal respect and social justice require ongoing awareness and intention from all of us collectively.

RFT Book Cover


Respect-Focused Therapy (RFT) is a foundation on which all modalities and techniques used in therapy can be strongly grounded, in order to produce sound, effective outcomes. This approach offers clients the opportunity to gain experiential understanding of being respected, possibly for the first time, from the therapeutic relationship and then be able to heal old wounds by creating more respect for self and others in the therapeutic process.




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