Nothing is more despicable than respect based on fear – Albert Camus.
When I was in high school I had a teacher, Mrs B, who taught us English. A soft-spoken, gentle-natured woman whom I had never heard shouting at or punishing any student for the three years that she taught us. Even the most notorious of boys in the class, who were popular for harassing teachers sat quietly and even tried to make a good impression during the English hour.
When Mrs B asked a question to a particular student, there was always a gentle wave of fear on their face even though we all knew we would not be punished for an incorrect answer. Mrs B had been teaching English in the school for over a decade and for many of the students in my class she was the one who introduced the language. And she had done a great job in helping them learn a language that was not their native. They respected her for her work. It is from her that I learnt for the first time that Respect for someone did not have to be accompanied by Fear. Nevertheless, it came along because that is what has been imbibed into us by our predecessors.
While Mrs B is on one end of the spectrum there are hundreds of people on the other end who have mastered the art of demanding respect by instilling fear. These are often very powerful people with political backing and immense wealth. In their case, however, the fear comes first, respect later. Most often the demand for respect comes from the glorification of their deeds (often unethical) by their immediate followers. Eg: A biopic is made on Mr X – a mafia don turned politician turned philanthropist. He once ruled Mumbai and is worth thousands of crores today.
It is unlikely that Mr X is respected for any of the roles he has played or for the wealth he has accumulated. If anything, the biopic teaches the public to fear Mr X. So if someday Mr X visits the public, there is a demand for respect. Or as I would like to put it – A show of respect.
It is not just the public figures like Mr X that are respected out of fear. We all have family members whom we fear because we have seen the previous generation do so. A grand-uncle, known for his bad temper to which many of the family members have fallen prey in the past. The younger children often silently wonder why their parents and other relatives fear the uncle. No one really gives them an answer because let’s admit it we are all ashamed of respecting someone out of fear.
This fine line between Respectfully Feared and Respected out of Fear is often lost in the eyes of the younger generation. While there are innumerable examples like Mr X there are very few like Mrs B. Because demanding respect out of fear is quick and easy while being respectfully feared is sacred and takes a lifetime of good work.
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