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OPINION | MIKE MASTERSON: Death of respect

by Mike Masterson | August 1, 2021 at 1:53 a.m.

The demise of mutual respect continues spreading across this nation that once prized the invaluable quality as highly as it did integrity, honesty and the reliability of one's character. That matters.

A respect for truth and the rights of others as well as our own lies at the heart of other values so vital to meaningful human interaction. I'm speaking primarily of trust and credibility. Without the glue respect offers in relationships and across all aspects of a free society, what of any meaning can hold together?

What I'm saying has become increasingly apparent to me for more than a decade as we've gradually allowed (in some instances, even encouraged) disrespect for virtually every institution including our faith, law enforcement, the family unit, the military that maintains our freedoms, our flag, the elderly, differing political beliefs, those we elect to lead us and even for the blessings of our nation.

And what a tragedy and shame this scourge has become for us, our children and theirs to come. I'll go so far as to surmise the evaporation of respect between a couple may well be the leading cause behind our high divorce rate.

The problem, as I see it, is that respect isn't something we willy-nilly distribute from our hearts and minds. The only way enduring respect between people exists is through proving one's character, behavior and reliability.

In today's me-first nation awash in disparagements and demonizations, I don't see an abundance who care enough to make the efforts necessary to earn respect.

The hurdles lie in valuing character and integrity in another person. Do they say what they mean? Are they honest with you and others? Do they show respect for your thoughts and and those of others?

Not that long ago, many business deals and promises were brokered by a handshake. The respect level was high enough to accept one's word as their bond. Oh, how our ancestors who revered respect would be weeping today.

Social media encourages widespread disrespect for others' views to spread like destructive wildfires. Rather than even attempting to understand others' views as perhaps as valid as our own, many find it appropriate to thoughtlessly respond with insults and disrespect, adding dry timber to the flames of angry retorts and disrespect.

Emotional overreactions and self-absorption too often trump mutual respect for others' views. And, valued readers, I assure you that no relationship can endure should it lack the bond of respect at its core.

Many others have made similar observations. I read the other day that the No. 1 contributor to job satisfaction in the workplace is "respectful treatment of all employees," according to a Society of Human Resource Management 2015 report.

Yet studies show the majority of employees in the U.S. have been experiencing less respectful treatment until it seems the value of respect is disappearing altogether.

Christine Porath and Christine Pearson wrote in their shared 2013 Harvard Business Review article, "The Price of Incivility": "Rudeness at work is rampant, and it's on the rise. Over the past 14 years we've polled thousands of workers about how they're treated on the job, and 98 percent have reported experiencing uncivil behavior. In 2011 half said they were treated rudely at least once a week--up from a quarter in 1998.

"The costs chip away at the bottom line. Nearly everybody who experiences workplace incivility responds in a negative way, in some cases overtly retaliating. Employees are less creative when they feel disrespected, and many get fed up and leave."

Things since have only gotten worse in many workplaces since that article was published; much worse, by my observation.

This steady increase in mutual lack of respect should trouble business leaders who care about morale and productivity.

I happened across a poem on the matter by Gordon Whittaker the other day. Here's what he wrote in 2005, titled "The Death of Respect."

The youth of today,

but not all I may say,

have no integrity or moral principles.

They have no qualms

about who they insult

whether it be their parents

or another adult.

Respect has gone out of the window,

it is no longer here.

It meant something

in our lifetime, we held it very dear.

No one gives up their seat to elderly

people anymore, what does it matter,

old woman, if your feet are sore.

They shun and ignore

the older generation

as though they were not there,

they don't give a damn,

they really don't care.

They won't be so belligerent

and bold,

When they too eventually grow old.

Maybe they too will look back

with sadness

by their actions, and their disgrace.

for making the world a poorer place.

And respect will stay a spectre

of the past,

my god, what a pity it did not last.

Now go out into the world and treat everyone you meet exactly like you want them to treat you.

Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at

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