Respect is a complicated and apparently internally inconsistent concept, with tinges of love, hate, fear and admiration all at the same time.   It is precisely because of those complications that respect is a key element in human relations.  

Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of realpolitik, reasoned that it was better to be feared than loved based on his assessment of human nature that, “… they are ungrateful, fickle, false, cowardly, covetous, and as long as you succeed they are yours entirely; they will offer you their blood, property, life and children, as is said above, when the need is far distant; but when it approaches they turn against you.”   I am not quite as cynical as Machiavelli, but you can see this pattern over and over in politics and foreign affairs.  The colloquial American phrase is “What have you done for me lately?”

Machiavelli avers that it is indeed better to be BOTH loved and feared when possible.  This describes being respected.   You earn respect by being consistent over the long term.  If people know you will be consistent and will act with integrity, they will often accept what you do, even if they don’t like the things you are doing.   And I have been repeatedly surprised how quickly acceptance can turn to support.   Success matters.

That is why you cannot give up when you hit opposition or try to run your affairs like a popularity contest.  Public opinion is indeed fickle and despite what people tell pollsters it is usually based more on impressions than on facts.    

People who don’t respect themselves have trouble respecting others.  That is why we have some much trouble with some people and places.  The proper response is not to lower the bar for these guys, but rather demand more from them. 

How much more insulting is it to imply or say outright that some people are unable to reach the higher standards we set for ourselves, so we will create a kind of ethical junior varsity for them.

I was moved to think about this by the guilty verdicts for the five immigrants who planned to attack Fort Dix and murder American soldiers.  Actually, it was not the verdict itself, but the subsequent gnashing of teeth about what this would mean to the “Muslim community.”  When you read carefully, however, you see that most of the teeth gnashing is done by the professional victims, who don’t speak for the community they purport to represent.  Actual people involved want to be treated with respect AS Americans.  One Albanian immigrant said, “I don’t know what they were thinking. They were just out of their mind and they should be put away for life. The Albanian community is nothing like this. We come from a country that has a reputation for religious diversity and tolerance. To go against the American government _ that’s unacceptable to our community.”  Got it – respect. 

All immigrants have revealed by their actions that they prefer the U.S. to wherever else they came from.  America is the land of their choice.   Many of us have forgotten this simple truth so we let the malcontents speak for “the communities” and don’t give or demand the proper respect from everybody else.   Treat each individual as a human being, not a member of a group, and we will all be better off.  It is the principled choice.

As for those five clowns who betrayed the country that welcomed them, they seem to be getting the justice they deserve.   These were stupid young men who were misled by all that holy war BS.  It is a pattern we see too often.  I always felt sad when I saw detainees in Iraq.  The pattern was you would see around ten stupid young men, who really didn’t think clearly about what they were doing and one hard eyed bad guy who had led them to hell with his hatred.  The purveyors of that poison are complicit, but the young men evidently were determined to kill innocent  for no reason we can ethically accept, so let’s not waste too much sympathy on them.