For a word that’s only seven letters, “respect” means a lot. What is respect, though? Probably the simplest way to define it is this: acknowledging someone’s seniority, whether in age, title, reputation or experience, by being kind and obedient to that person. Many resort to respectfulness as a learned behavior, whether it be directed towards a parent or teacher when they ask you to do something, or, to be more general, the government, when you follow the law. Respect has been taught since the dawn of time, in households, businesses, kingdoms, empires, etc., and some have taught it better than others. It’s the foundation of every (lasting) relationship. So, to answer the original question, I do not believe a society can successfully operate without respect. Why? Respect is a two-way street; a society without respect for the authority from the subjects and the same from the authority for the subjects, without mutual appreciation, means unrest.. Unrest leads to disorder, and a society without order is one doomed to fail.
There are many examples in history of societies brought down by a lack of respect. One of those examples is the reign of Hitler and the Nazi Regime in Germany, beginning at the end of the 1930s and early 1940s. In his efforts as Chancellor, Adolf Hitler strongly believed that Germany could become more powerful, but to achieve that power, he planned to exterminate all Jews, disabled people, and other minorities to train blond-haired, blue-eyed children of strictly German descent to be Germany’s next generation of soldiers. So began a long period of extermination over several years, in which hundreds of thousands of minorities were killed all over the country. This period is known as the Holocaust, the largest genocide to date, and was the main cause of World War II . Hitler had nearly all of Germany’s respect, but he obviously did not respect them, at least not all of them. He responded to adoration with hate, and was ultimately killed for his actions.
Now let’s explore the other side of this argument. Some might say that a leader doesn’t need to show respect back to his followers, because then he would be making his or herself equal to them, and then the leader would have no authority, leverage, no overall power, no fear. If there’s no fear, then the people can get away with anything they want. While this is a valid concern, and makes perfect sense, it doesn’t make the main point any less valid. Fear is not synonymous with functionality. It’s not needed for a society to run well. Many successful leaders have been known for their pacifistic qualities and kindness. Gandhi, for instance, was the epitome of peaceful protesting. While most people would resort to violence as a response to a corrupt government, Gandhi did the exact opposite. Years ago, when Britain had control over India and all their economy, which included trade and other commerce, they were popularly thought of as tyrannical. One major example of this is the tax on salt, which the people were unfairly forced to pay or risk imprisonment. So, Gandhi, gathered all of the people and they protested. Sitting quietly, not moving until the British lightened up. Until his death, Gandhi was a great leader for the Indian Civil Rights Movement. He is forever a significant role model to the people of India, and his status didn’t come with fear but with peace. He loved his fellow Indians, and they loved him. Without Gandhi, India very well might have still been under imperial rule today.
Though both of the previous illustrations showed respect on a large scale, being respectful isn’t a virtue solely intended to be practiced between a political figure and his followers. We share respect between others in our community everyday. For example, look at airport security workers. It is important that we respectfully comply with what they ask of us, so that the flight will be as safe and enjoyable as possible. To that same point, though it is also vital that the workers respect our privacy, so that they not only keep their job, but help us to feel like we’re in good hands, and the trip will be an easy one. If either side of this scale of respect becomes unequal, something is bound to go wrong. Whether it’s in Nazi Germany, British-ruled India, or in our own communities, mutual respect is just like the rings in a binder: it keeps everything together. If America learns that authority must respect its subjects just as much as we should them, then we’ll be much better for it.