09. Respect: To honour people with a deeper understanding and experience of life, especially our elders

What would you do?

The writer and philosopher Roman Kryznaric, author of Empathy: Why it Matters, is concerned that if we want to create a more compassionate world, it’s vital for people to respect and understand each other better. Inspired by the Elvis Presley lyric “Walk a mile in my shoes” in September 2015 he launched the first exhibit of The Empathy Museum. Visitors enter a giant shoe shop to be fitted with the actual shoes of a person from a completely different walk of life. They then put on a pair of headphones and stroll for a mile along the River Thames listening to the narrative of that person’s life while literally wearing their sandals, loafers, waders or stillettos. www.romankrznaric.com

The benefits of respect

Respect has the potential to:

  • enable us all to learn from each other’s knowledge, experience and wisdom 
  • identify heroes and role models who can help us fulfill our potential
  • create a society which celebrates the diversity and richness of all its citizens

A 16 Guidelines view on respect

Everyone wants and needs respect. It is a pre-requisite for human beings to relate to each other in a positive and constructive way. Respect acknowledges that we have the same basic needs, whether physical, psychological or spiritual, and that other people’s experience and wisdom can be helpful to us.

Yet there is another dimension to respect, with even more power to transform. From our earliest years, we learn and grow through admiring and copying other people. In traditional societies this was a well-ordered process. Wisdom and life experience were seen as a form of wealth to be passed down the generations. ‘Elder’ didn’t just mean ‘old.’ Why is there now a tendency to be disrespectful towards people who are older and have more life experience than ourselves?

All around us there are people we can respect and learn from, if we choose to do so, and if we have the necessary humility. Respect is something that we have to give rather than to demand. How do we choose the people we respect? What effect will this have on our lives? How can respect contribute to a happy life?

16 Guidelines resources and training for developing respect

Did you know?

Research suggests that overall happiness in life is more related to respect than financial gain. So in order to make people around us feel happy, showing them they have our respect is a better bet than material gifts.

Anderson, C., Kraus, M. W., Galinsky, A. D., & Keltner, D. (2012). Sociometric status and subjective well-being. Psychological Science, 23, 764-77



A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life are based on the labours of other men, living and dead” said Albert Einstein, despite himself being one of the most innovative and radical scientists and thinkers of the twentieth century. 

Einstein’s investigations into the nature of the universe led him to develop a strong belief in interdependence. “When we survey our lives and endeavours we soon observe that almost the whole of our actions and desires are bound up with the existence of other human beings,” he said. His genius as a ‘passionately curious’ free thinker seems to have been only enhanced by his deep respect for his parents, for his scientific predecessors and teachers, and for “personalities who benefited mankind through independence of character and judgement.” 

For more on Albert Einstein, see:

  1. www.alberteinstein.info which provides online access to the scientific and non-scientific manuscripts held by the Albert Einstein Archives at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
  2. Einstein – His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson (New York, Citadel Press, 2007)
  3. There is an online exhibition about Albert Einstein on the website of the American Museum of Natural History, www.amnh.org/exhibitions/einstein


A short reflection on respect from '16 Guidelines: The Basics' book

Find a quiet space where you can relax. Sit comfortably. To help you settle, focus your awareness on your breathing. Let go of any thoughts, images or feelings that arise. Whenever you become distracted, bring your awareness gently back to the sensation of the breath going in and out. Spend a few minutes enjoying the sensation of coming to rest. 

Cast your mind back over the stories you have read in this book. Reflect on what it is that draws you to them. Is there one person who particularly inspires you? Alternatively, focus on someone who is not in the book and who you know personally. In either case, think about the very specific qualities that you respect in that person.

Consider which qualities of this person you would most like to develop within yourself. Are they qualities that you already possess? Remember a time when, even on a smaller scale, you demonstrated some of these qualities in the way you thought, spoke or behaved. What do you already have in common with them?

Now imagine this person, whom you look up to, as a baby, and then as a small child. Reflect on how they had to learn to speak, walk, read and write, just as you did. Reflect on the moments in the middle of the night when they may have felt uncertain and afraid. What mistakes do you think they made? How did they cope with their mistakes? 

Try to accept the vulnerability and humanity of this person you respect. They are a human being, just like you. Spend some time focusing on their vulnerability. Does it make any difference to the quality of your respect?

Is there any reason that you cannot develop the same qualities that you admire in others? Can you transcend your own limitations, including your limited view of yourself? 

Allow yourself to “think big” for a few minutes, just as they may have done.

Close with the wish “May all beings be happy!”


Quotes on respect

  • Never look down on anybody unless you're helping him up. - Jesse Jackson
  • People who don't cherish their elderly have forgotten whence they came and whither they go. - Ramsey Clarks
  • No strength within, no respect without. – Kashmiri Proverb
  • Listen to your elders’ advice, not because they are always right but because they have more experience of being wrong. – Source Unknown
  • “If you look deeply into the palm of your hand, you will see your parents and all generations of your ancestors. All of them are alive in this moment. Each is present in your body. You are the continuation of each of these people.” ? Thich Nhat Hanh
  • Children begin by loving their parents; after a time they judge them; rarely, if ever, do they forgive them – Oscar Wilde


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