Find out what it means to me

— Aretha Franklin, “Respect

There are many different definitions for “Respect.” In linguistics, “Respect” belongs to three different classes of words; noun, adjective and verb.

For this post’s purpose, I’ve chosen the verb form of this word.

re·spect [ri-spekt]

–verb (used with object)

  1. to hold in esteem or honor: I cannot respect a cheat
  2. to show regard or consideration for: to respect someone’s rights.
  3. to refrain from intruding upon or interfering with: to respect a person’s privacy.
  4. to relate or have reference to.

A subject of “heated” debate occurred recently within our family. I’m sure a lot of this had to do with the fact that we are all physically and emotionally exhausted from the past three weeks of nonstop activity. Basically what it boiled down to is that apparently I was not showing respect for this particular family member.

I feel I need to preface this by, once again, stating that I am Filipino-American. My parents were both born in the Philippines and my brother & I were born here in the U.S. The reason I felt I needed to bring this up again is because many times I feel like I’ve been brought up in two different worlds. And in these two different worlds, the word “Respect” can differ.

In my “Filipino world,” definition # 1 would be the best use of the word “Respect.” My culture places high emphasis on family hierarchy. The older you are, the more respect you are given. There are many Filipino customs that are specifically meant to show respect to your elders from using a title in front of your older sibling (“Kuya” for a brother, or “Ate” for a sister), to the physical act of greeting elder relatives when they enter a room (a term called “Mano po”). In fact, when speaking to an elder in Tagalog (the Filipino language), it is expected that you add the suffix “po” to most phrases to show respect to them.

In short, “Respect” in the Filipino culture is something that is given to you by right. It’s something that is expected to be given to your parents, your grandparents, your godparents, your older siblings. And because the Filipino “family” is extended to include all relatives and even in-laws … somehow, some where down the line (even if you’re the youngest in your immediate family), you will be shown respect.

In my “American world,” I primarily think that respecting someone (or something like the environment, for example) pertains to definition # 2 above. I feel that respect is something that is earned by showing respect to others … to consider other’s positions, to show empathy for other’s situations. By being successful in doing these (not-so) simple acts, I feel that not only have I earned a person’s trust but I’ve earned their respect as well. Because now, I would hope that in turn, they would show some concern or empathy for whatever situation I might be in … they would respect me.

In short, I think “Respect” goes hand-in-hand with Christianity’s Golden Rule: “… do to others what you would have them do to you.” (Yes, the Catholic School Girl in me is coming out again.) To me, this also means “Respect” goes both ways.

So why the “heated debate”? Well, how am I to blend both these definitions of “Respect” into a bi-cultural household? One way is given by right. The other one is earned. Then … because of 12 years of Catholic school … throw in the whole “Ten Commandments“, specifically the fifth one as it was pointed out to me, and things can get (just a little) sticky.

The Filipino-Catholic in me strongly believes that those older than I am do deserve respect, as they have more life experiences (but not necessarily more wisdom) than I do. Giving them the opportunity to talk and dispense advice (whether it’s good or not), is a way for me to show respect. Although I might not participate in the typical Filipino customs of showing respect (can’t speak the language, and hey … my brother and older cousins HATED be called “Kuya” or “Ate”), I feel that by being polite and showing sincerity to any of my elders is the way I can show that entitled respect.

The American in me, however, has a hard time showing respect to others that don’t reciprocate that respect. How can you show respect to someone who constantly ignores your opinions or suggestions? Or how can you be respectful to someone who won’t stop their angry tirade long enough to hear you speak? They might be your Filipino elders, but wouldn’t you be just as angry and hurt if it was, for example, your boss or a fellow co-worker who was treating you like this? Would you give that person any respect?

What would you do if you lived in my bi-cultural world? What does “Respect” mean to YOU? And who do you think deserves respect in your world?

Sing it, Aretha …