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I often see respect being confused with courtesy. However, should we treat them as synonyms? Should we expect someone’s respect as a given much as their courtesy?

From formative years, we are expected to extend courtesy to friends and strangers alike. Why so? Courtesy is our universal quasi-invisible social lubricant. It’s crucial in engendering sustainable interactions with each other. I can thus reasonably expect, at a minimum, courtesy from strangers. On the other hand, am I entitled to their respect? No, respect is earned, and cannot be extended without prior knowledge and experience of a person’s character. I cannot in all honesty bestow my respect on a stranger. They have to earn it much as I need to earn theirs. Why then do we easily confuse the two?

I think we easily confuse courtesy and respect because we express them through overlapping gestures and patterns of behavior. However, though they have similar manifestations, we should not forget that they have very different basis. Needing to earn respect through our actions, we cannot and should not demand it like water from a tap. Courtesy? Yes, let’s rightfully expect courtesy from each other.

The alternative to carefully parsing the distinction between courtesy and respect would be the anarchic world of Humpty-Dumpty. “When I use a word, Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.” (LEWIS CARROLL , Through the Looking-Glass). Chaotic as our world already is, do we really need to add to it the capriciousness of Humpty Dumpty through our avoidably careless misuse of words? Let’s stop saying respect, that which we need to earn, when we mean courtesy, that which we are entitled to.

Post by Tirumalai Kamala:

Courtesy versus Respect. Why the latter is not a synonym for the former.

Courtesy versus Respect. Why the latter is not a synonym for the former.

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