Aretha Franklin’s soulful plea more than 50 years ago came to mind recently. I am now an old codger who remembers when showing respect was a matter of common courtesy: words like “please” and “thank you”, “sir” and “ma’am” were expected parts of social interactions. Men removed their hats in the presence of a lady, when at a meal table, or when the national anthem was played. My brothers and I were taught to open doors for ladies, and how to escort them on the streets or on the stairs. And behavior towards one’s elders must always be respectful — Mr. and Mrs. were required; first names only if expressly requested.
We were also taught to be respectful of positions like pastor, policeman, teacher, clerk, etc. Among the soldiers of the Old Orchard Beach Corps was the retired Territorial Commander who commissioned me as an officer, Commissioner Bramwell Tripp. During the four years I was his Corps Officer, he never addressed me by first name even when visiting him in his home; I was always “Captain” – even though he and his wife insisted that my wife and I call them by their first names as we did other soldiers of the Corps. He respected the office of the Corps Officer and symbolized that with his term of address.
I fear that our current national trauma includes an absence of respect. As we critique the institutions of our society and hold them accountable for their faults, we seem too eager to dismiss the positives and deny respect for the institution as a whole because of the shortcomings. There are those who seem to have no respect for our country, her history, or her enduring institutions. And our political leaders speak and act in ways that would have brought a sharp rebuke from my parents.
I believe respect to be a Biblical value. Jesus was respectful, even of those whose behavior and principles he condemned. We believe that the image of God (the imago dei) exists in every person, calling for us to treat even the most sin-marred personality with respect and dignity as one for whom Christ died.
Many were the times that I had this value tested as a Corps Officer by those who accused me falsely, or betrayed my trust, or acted disdainfully toward those who were providing assistance to them. But I tried my best never to let the behavior of another dictate my own.
I applaud today’s front-line servants who manage to show respect to those they serve amid an increasingly disrespectful society. Thank you for your show of respect!