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What is respect?

ARETHA FRANKLIN sang about it, many people fight for it and it is possible to lose it in an instant, but what is respect?

Be it consideration; courteous regard, appreciation, empathy or tolerance it is clear that no one wants to live without respect or be disrespected. A new book called Respect: essential, universal, elusive by Keith M Brown hopes to define respect and what it means in the modern world.

A collection of short stories based on the personal experiences of the writer, Brown attempts to demonstrate the universal role of respect by recounting tales of when he visited Nelson Mandela’s prison of 18 years, Robben Island and juxtaposes it with the 2011 London riots.

Covering the many variants of respect, such as respect above others, self-respect, respect by association and mutual respect the author delves into a very detailed catalogue of the emotions and looks at the psyche surrounding the human need for respect and the many different ways it can manifest itself, be it imitation, morally or religiously motivated.

Like many readers of The Voice, the author had respect instilled in him by this ‘disciplinarian parents’ long before he was able to understand the word’s meaning. In the text he explains that his parents would not tolerate any child talking back to them in an aggressive sounding tone without a sharp rebuke and were uncompromising in every way when it came to the adherence of the subject – such was the importance of respect to them.

CONTROVERSIAL

In what may seem controversial to some, but obvious to others, Brown argues in the book that religious respect, particularly between different faiths is not a true form of respect and is only motivated by political social and economic pressures.

Keeping it religious, but moving to respect amongst worshippers of the same faith, Brown then goes on to argue that preachers have lost respect for their congregations: “what would seem to be another style of behaviour among some ‘modern’ television preachers and performers are the ways in which they put their own manners and respect aside in their dealings with their congregations.”

“For instance some no longer politely ask their congregations to stand, sit, or to respond to any other of their requests. Instead, one often hears instructions from the pulpit, rostrum or platform in a voice and tone that is louder than that of a Sergeant Major preparing his or her soldiers for battle. At other times the preacher would go so far as to ‘order’ the congregation to do things that could be regarded as assault. For example, it is not unusual to hear some preachers instructing their congregations to slap a number of their fellow worshipers, to convey certain messages from the preacher.”

Brown’s observations on religious respect are both funny and at times, irreverent but it sums up the serious underlying passion that the author has put into each page of Respect: essential, universal, elusive.

It is also possible to tell that the author tried to coherently cover all manner of the word respect and it is such a vast subject that although the overall course is maintained, he invariably deviates a little from the issue of respect and into, in one case a religious argument, which is a much bigger discussion and subject.

However, the snippets into Brown’s own personal experiences are entertaining and readable, his trip to Robben Island, as mentioned above, offers a seldom discussed perspective. Unless you are lucky enough to have travelled to South Africa and taken a trip around the prison, it may surprise you to know that the institution, turned tourist attraction now houses former prisoner and prison guards who live together in a community on the island.

In this part of the book Brown explores the lack of remembrance and therefore respect of other political prisoners who were imprisoned during apartheid, he describes it as “a case where respect seemed to have been ‘biased’ or ‘distorted’ in its application, especially when driven by personality predicated on ‘individual’ achievement, and recognised on both national and international levels.”

Brown goes on to say that for the other prisoners, respect remains elusive from the tourists and by extension the international community. However, the level of respect that the men have for each other, prisoner or guard is at an often unseen level and easily eclipses the respect sought from outsiders.

Acknowledging that respect is not set in concrete, Brown is right when he says it remains an important factor in building, maintaining and sustaining of good human relationships and he strives diligently to reach his goal of defining the word.
For that each reader will have to make their own decision on whether the book has captured the essence of respect because it is subjective. For me, this book is an engaging read and could certainly be used as a basis for a serious
conversation.

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