With All Undue Respect

Zoë Sharp

“From what I’ve seen of you, Zoë, you treat people with a respect you somehow do not expect to receive yourself.”

This was said to me a month or so ago by someone I’ve known for a long time, if not closely. I had no idea he’d observed me well enough to form such an opinion one way or another.

My first instinct was denial. Or not quite denial but certainly qualification. Respect is not something that can be expected—not in the present world.

It has to be worked for, earned.

And once you have it, you can’t simply hang it above the fireplace like a dusty stag’s head trophy and expect admiration from all comers. It has to be carefully maintained or the moths will turn it into little more than a memory.

“I’m not concerned with your liking or disliking of me … All I ask is that you respect me as a human being.”―Jackie Robinson

Respect is a living entity, always shifting, always in motion—much like the stag before someone shot and stuffed it.

One false move, and it’s gone.

I respect someone who has a no-nonsense competence without allowing their ego to enter the equation. It should be possible to be good at what you do without making yourself thoroughly unpleasant in the process.

But it seems to me that modern society will break down not because of some great catastrophe, but because of a series of tiny personal injustices. How many times recently have you experienced the following?

~Watched someone pick up a piece of litter they did not drop?

~Been let out into traffic by someone who had to inconvenience themselves to do so, rather than because they had to stop anyway?

~Been thanked by someone you’ve let out into traffic when you had to inconvenience yourself to do so, rather than because you had to stop anyway?

~Have a door held open?

~Had a car slow down to pass you walking along a wet road so you weren’t splashed?

~Been invited to go ahead by the person before you at the supermarket checkout because they’re shopping for a siege and you have only a few items?

These may seem like trivial examples—and indeed they are—but they are also the niceties of civilisation that make us human.

So, ’Rati, what petty injustices have you witnessed recently, or what random small acts of kindness?

Instead of a Word of the Week, this time round I have a selection of quotations on the subject of respect—or lack of it.

“You should respect each other and refrain from disputes; you should not, like water and oil, repel each other, but should, like milk and water, mingle together.”―Buddha

“They cannot take away our self-respect if we do not give it to them.”―Mohandas K. Gandhi

“The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof.”―Richard Bach

“Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery.”―Malcom X

“If you have ten thousand regulations you destroy all respect for the law.”―Winston Churchill

“I get no respect. The way my luck is running, if I was a politician I would be honest.”―Rodney Dangerfield

“Men are so willing to respect anything that bores them.”―Marilyn Monroe

“When you are content to be simply yourself and don’t compare or compete, everybody will respect you.”―Lao Tzu

“I never make the mistake of arguing with people for whose opinions I have no respect.”―Edward Gibbon

“To the living we owe respect, but to the dead we owe only the truth.”―Voltaire

“In order to acquire a growing and lasting respect in society, it is a good thing, if you possess great talent, to give, early in your youth, a very hard kick to the right shin of the society that you love. After that, be a snob.”―Salvador Dali

“I do respect people’s faith, but I don’t respect their manipulation of that faith in order to create fear and control.”―Javier Bardem

“Respect for ourselves guides our morals, respect for others guides our manners.”―Laurence Sterne

“I don’t have a lot of respect for talent. Talent is genetic. It’s what you do with it that counts.”―Martin Ritt

“I respect my limitations, but I don’t use them as an excuse.”―Stephen R. Donaldson

“If you are killed because you are a writer, that’s the maximum expression of respect, you know.”―Mario Vargas Llosa

‘“With the greatest respect,” I said. Always a nice phrase to use when you intend to speak without any.’―Charlie Fox

And on a slight note of BSP, <cough> this week saw the US publication of DIE EASY: Charlie Fox book ten.

Zoë Sharp is one of the sharpest, coolest, and most intriguing writers I know. She delivers dramatic, action-packed novels with characters we really care about. And once again, in DIE EASY, Zoë Sharp is at the top of her game.”New York Times best-seller, Harlan Coben



26 thoughts on “With All Undue Respect

  1. Gerald So

    I don't disagree with your comments on respect in general, Zoe, but as an individual, I tend to respect people by default. They have to do something to lose that basic respect. And if I've had good dealings with them in the past, I have more respect for them, more difficult for them to lose.

    I like to show respect in how I address people. Coming from an academic background, if someone has a Ph.D., I call him "Doctor". If we start to become friendly, I will address people by their full first names or whatever name they themselves use. Shortenings and nicknames sound as if I'm belittling them or presuming a level of intimacy we haven't reached.

    I always write email like a letter, with a salutation and closing. This is my way of setting a respectful tone, heading off the odd, angry missives too common to the Internet.

  2. David Corbett


    Wonderful morning distraction, er, post, my dear.

    I found Voltaire's quote intriguing. As though "respect" involved the deft hypocrisy the French, and especially the French court, were known for. It's not always motivated by self-interest and cowardice. Sometimes it's simple manners — why cause injury when it's not required. The full truth can wait until the chance of injury is minimized.

    And in a way, a lot of what you were saying touched on manners. They do seem in such short supply these days. Some of it, I think, is caused because so many people are just scared out of their wits that they're about to lose everything. But some of it is also because, with American culture at the forefront, we've moved away from feeling to emotion in our engagement with others.

    Bear with me a moment.

    The difference between emotion and feeling is more one of degree than kind. Feeling is emotion that has been habituated and refined; it is understood and can be used deliberately. I know how I feel about this person and treat her accordingly. Emotion is more raw, unconsidered. It comes unbidden, regardless of how familiar it might be. Rage is an emotion. Contempt is a feeling.

    Emotion can be both liberating and vulgar. Feeling can be both mindful and constraining. Both are necessary, neither is "true." But with the Dionysian extravagances of Rock and its various cultural echoes, emotion began to be considered more true, more valuable, than feeling, which was seen as restrictive and bourgeois, contrived and false. And a great many babies leapt into the sky with the bathwater.

    The Jungian psychologist James Hillman wrote a long essay on the Feeling function, which is one of the four main psychological dispositions identified by Jung (the other four being Intuition, Sensation, and Thinking). In it, he said something along these lines:

    To speak of the value of manners in an age of unprecedented violence is to speak of the importance of the Feeling function.

    I think manners are a way of doing what Gerald does, to assume respect as the default mode, and to act accordingly, until the assumption is demonstrably proven false. There are worse ways to live. We seem to be living them.

  3. Lisa Alber

    Interesting, those six behaviors you listed? I engage in them–not all the time, mind you–I'm no saint–but frequently. Seems like the normal thing to do. I always wave to the driver behind me when she lets me in, even when the driver should have let me in anyhow. I slow down around cyclists too. And I ALWAYS pick up my dog's poop.

    I don't think I'm nicer person than the average person either. But I do know I feel things too much, most of the time. So, given David's comment, could that be a causal factor?

    And, do you think respect for others is related to our level of self-respect? Or, could it sometimes be that respect masks insecurity–the need to be liked and always do the right thing? Is there are word for that kind of faux-respect?

  4. Jake Nantz

    I've always considered it a sign of respect that I try not to bullshit people. I try to be honest with them. And by being direct, I'm often accused of being rude and disrespectful.

    Can't win with some folks, I guess.

  5. Allison Davis

    As a comment to David, we don't take the time anymore to "feel" — everything is so immediate and viseral — blame technology or whatever, but we make ourselves process faster and are not contemplative.

    Perhaps that is part of what makes up respect as well. I respect strength and conviction but also the humility it takes to allow others to be rude. That is, let someone cut in without swearing (trying to be better, respect and admire my friends who don't swear), to pick up after someone, to say something funny in the elevator (ok I do that), and to just show simple compassion. I admire people who remain unruffled.

    Here's my favorite quote that I have on my computer to remind me: "It is clear that inner peace is the principal cause of happiness. We can observe this in our daily lives. On days when we are calm and happy, even if difficulties arise or we fall victim to a mishap, we take it well, it doesn't bother us unduly. But on days when we feel sad or have lost our usual calmness, teh least little annoyance will take on enormous proportions and be deeply upsetting to us." Yes, yes, it's the Dalai Lama. So everytime I get pissed off at something, I remember my inner peace and (try to) let it go.

  6. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Gerald

    The opening comment agrees with you—I tend to treat people with more respect than I expect to receive myself. And perhaps I should have made it clear that it’s my own view that respect FOR MYSELF has to be earned. I try to walk the honourable path with others until they throw enough obstacles in my way that I am forced to turn back.

    And yes, far too many emails are dashed off without thought to the sensitivities of the recipient, often leading to grovelling retractions later. By which time, sadly, the damage has been done.

    If ever I find myself in the position of writing a letter or email of complaint, I always a) try to leave it at least overnight before I send it and b) work out what it is I hope to achieve by sending it. For me, just letting off steam is not a valid reason.

    I remain, sir, your honourable servant


  7. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Cool stuff, Zoe, I dig.
    Respect. Hmmm. I guess I don't put a lot of attention on whether I respect someone or not. I'm too busy trying to determine if I respect myself. There's that inner conflict stuff going on. I tend to have a relatively strong sense of self-respect, but it's elusive, changes depending on the mood of the day. For instance, I can respect myself for finding a day job when I had to, in order to pay the bills and support the family. On the other hand, I have a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that I'm not living an entirely creative life, or a giving one, a life where I am proud of what I do for a living, a life I can…respect.
    Mostly I respect people who respect others. I have no respect for people who put others down, specifically folks like Nancy Grace, whose media life and name-recognition comes from bashing others.

  8. Lisa Alber

    Ack, so true, Stephen! An ex-therapist called this cognitive dissonance, for which I'm an expert. 🙂

    "I'm too busy trying to determine if I respect myself. There's that inner conflict stuff going on. I tend to have a relatively strong sense of self-respect, but it's elusive, changes depending on the mood of the day. For instance, I can respect myself for finding a day job when I had to, in order to pay the bills and support the family. On the other hand, I have a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that I'm not living an entirely creative life, or a giving one, a life where I am proud of what I do for a living, a life I can…respect."

  9. Sarah W

    I respect this point of this post, Zoe.

    I think one sees (and feels) a lot of small kindness and small injustices while driving.

    Is one's Right of Way more important than moving over a lane, when possible, to help the drivers trying to merge from the on-ramp? Is it worth it to be annoyed if they don't?

    Is our time so important that we MUST honk at the driver flashing a right-turn signal in front of us, the one who has a much better view of the cross traffic than we do? Is it worth it to refuse to turn right just to show the person who honked where they can stick their impromptu driving lessons?

    Do we gain anything by trying to 'push' the car ahead of us into speeding? Do we gain anything by dropping below the speed limit to teach the pushy car behind us a lesson?

    Does it cost us anything to be kind at four-way stops and in parking lots? To stop at an accident to help, or at least to call for help? To stop short of street intersections and driveway entrances so people can turn into them? To keep safe distance between you and the car ahead of you? To use your turn signals and common sense?

    Sorry. Tough commute yesterday morning.

  10. Zoë Sharp

    Hi David

    I should have learned by now not to open my mouth, but simply to mention any given topic to you, as you always seem to make a far better fist of it!

    And surely, at a time when people do fear they are about to lose everything, what better time is there to show a little courtesy to ones fellow human beings?

    It simply always comes as a surprise when someone behaves towards me as I would expect to behave towards them.

    Perhaps that’s a rather Freudian comment on the state of my own sense of self-esteem?

    There’s a line I’ve used in DIE EASY, in response to Charlie’s uneasiness at accepting praise:

    “So that’s your Achilles’ heel. Throw accusations at you, you come out fighting. Try a compliment and you crumble.”

  11. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Lisa

    Wow, where are you when I’m on the road?

    But I think the thing that impresses me most about your comment is that you pick up your dog poop while driving. That takes some skill!

    You make an interesting point about our need to be liked, but if I treat people kindly it is because I want to like me, not because I want them to like me 🙂

  12. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Jake

    Directness and honesty is to be prized, I think. Particularly when it comes to writing. (Although if anyone can master combining directness and honesty with a gentle delivery of criticism—CONSTRUCTIVE criticism, that is—that would be even better …

    But it is one of those fine-line dilemmas, isn’t it? Mind you, some people seem to think they can get away with being rude by simply adding, “No offence,” onto whatever insult they’ve just come out with 🙂

  13. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Allison

    I think you only have to look at groups of people sitting together but all entirely wrapped up in their smartphones/tablets/mobiles, etc, to know that the art of gently communicating with each other face-to-face seems to be a dying art.

    I love the Dalai Lama quote. Actually, I try to do work on the whole Desiderata perception of life, to ‘go placidly amidst the noise and haste’ while admiring the Malcolm X ‘if someone puts his hand on you’ attitude as well. I know where my personal line in the sand is drawn. Until someone crosses it, it’s not worth me getting annoyed.

    But if they do, oh boy …

  14. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Stephen

    I think I can speak for just about everyone who visits these pages when I say you have nothing but our respect for putting your family’s needs first. It must have been such a heartbreakingly tough decision, and that takes a great deal of self-analysis and a certain stark honesty.

    And I have no doubt that you WILL achieve the artistic balance for which you search. Perseverance is all.

    When it comes to respecting others, I’m always fascinated to watch the way other people treat wait-staff in restaurants. Some of them don’t pause in conversation when they’re served or their plate is cleared, let alone make eye contact and say thank you.

    Who was it who said you can tell an awful lot about somebody by the way they treat other people’s staff…?

  15. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Sarah

    I suspected you’d just have a tough drive somewhere!

    But I’m with you all the way. I hate rude or thoughtless drivers. The ones who put their fog lights on at the first hint of mist, regardless of the fact you can clearly see their tail-lights in front of you. Or the ones who put their fog lights on in heavy rain. (I swear I’ll never understand the logic of that one.) Or who blithely sit in the wrong lane at roundabouts/rotaries with misleading indicators flashing—or no indicators at all.

    I don’t like being shoved on the motorway, but equally if I’m going to pull into a gap to overtake a vehicle in a slower-moving lane, I try to accelerate enough not to inconvenience the traffic in the faster-moving lane.

    And why is it always Audi drivers who come stampeding up behind me regardless?

    Most of the time, though, it’s not intentional bad manners—the driver of the other vehicle just isn’t paying enough attention to have seen you …

  16. Lisa Alber

    That's my super power, all right: drive-by poop scooping! Hah!

    Cognitive dissonance, yeah: basically the inner conflict between a behavior (working for the man) and a belief (not the work I should be doing).

  17. David Corbett

    Zoe: Yes, I know, I do go on. It was just my first few moments at the keyboard this morning and once I got started, well… I do apologize.

    As for the Desiderata, I'm sure you know the National Lampoon version: The Deteriorata:

    Here's a YouTube version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ey6ugTmCYMk

    Here are the lyrics:

    Go placidly amid the noise and waste,
    And remember what comfort there may be in owning a piece thereof.
    Avoid quiet and passive persons unless you are in need of sleep.
    Rotate your tires.
    Speak glowingly of those greater than yourself,
    And heed well their advice, even though they be turkeys.
    Know what to kiss and when.
    Consider that two wrongs never make a right,
    But that three … do.
    Wherever possible put people on "HOLD".
    Be comforted that in the face of all aridity and disillusionment,
    And despite the changing fortunes of time,
    There is always a big future in computer maintenance.

    You are a fluke of the Universe.
    You have no right to be here, and whether you can hear it or not,
    The Universe is laughing behind your back.

    Remember the Pueblo.
    Strive at all times to bend, fold, spindle and mutilate.
    Know yourself. If you need help, call the FBI.
    Exercise caution in your daily affairs,
    Especially with those persons closest to you;
    That lemon on your left for instance.
    Be assured that a walk through the ocean of most souls
    Would scarcely get your feet wet.
    Fall not in love therefore; it will stick to your face.
    Gracefully surrender the things of youth: birds, clean air, tuna, Taiwan,
    And let not the sands of time get in your lunch.
    Hire people with hooks.
    For a good time, call 606-4311. Ask for Ken.
    Take heart amid the deepening gloom that your dog
    Is finally getting enough cheese;
    And reflect that whatever fortunes may be your lot,
    It could only be worse in Milwaukee.

    You are a fluke of the Universe.
    You have no right to be here, and whether you can hear it or not,
    The Universe is laughing behind your back.

    Therefore make peace with your God whatever you conceive him to be,
    Hairy Thunderer or Cosmic Muffin.
    With all its hopes, dreams, promises, and urban renewal,
    The world continues to deteriorate.
    Give up.

    (Sorry. The devil made me do it…)

  18. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Lisa

    "Cognitive dissonance, yeah: basically the inner conflict between a behavior (working for the man) and a belief (not the work I should be doing)."

    Love that definition. There's a whole blog topic there, all by itself 🙂

    Hmm …

  19. Pari Noskin

    I've seen a lot of respect for others lately. I was in a three-day workshop with people from all over a large healthcare system and the time people spent actually working and listening to each other — even though they were coming from very different perspectives — was truly wonderful.

    But, then, I look for respect and for reasons to be grateful, so my worldview might be a bit different?

  20. Stephen Ramey

    Interesting post. I'm happy to report that I have witnessed each of these small kindnesses in the recent past here in beautiful New Castle, PA. When a community has been beat down long enough, what remains tends to understand the small graces that make life bearable. At least that's my theory 🙂

  21. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Stephen

    I'm so sorry – I did reply to your comment but for some reason it hasn't shown up. New Castle PA sounds a bit more polite than Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK. I love the idea of adversity making us treat each other more kindly. Do you think it will catch on …?

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