Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, said it best in her anthem, Respect, written by the late, great, Otis Redding.
All I’m askin’
Is for a little respect
In my nearly 3 decades of civil rights work seeking systems change for a better world for many disenfranchised people, the lack of respect for basic human rights is what repeatedly brings clients to me seeking help.
Many years ago, I was meeting with Wisconsin Native American leaders from the Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council. I asked them how best non-Natives could work with them. They gave a simple and quite appropriate response: “Just give us respect.”
While it seems simple, the sad truth is that our world would not be in the sorry state that it is in, if everyone simply respected everyone else’s right to live life with basic human decency. Just imagine a world where:
- Elders were treated respectfully instead of with the disdain that results in abusive treatment in many nursing homes;
- People with disabilities were treated respectfully so that they could obtain a quality education and good employment and health care;
- People of color were not subjected to the disrespect of racial profiling demeaning them on a daily basis;
- and of course, the list could go on & on.
A recent study of 26 high-achieving, high-poverty schools in Texas bolsters decades of effective schools research. Effective schools exhibited the following characteristics: a strong focus on ensuring academic success for each student; a refusal to accept excuses for poor performance; a willingness to experiment with a variety of strategies; intensive and sustained efforts to involve parents and the community; an environment of mutual respect and collaboration; and a passion for continuous improvement and professional growth.
When I am successful on behalf of my clients, I not only obtain justice for my clients, but a new found respect from their former adversary. It is this respect that brings real systems change.
It really does not matter what the environment is because respect is the root of progress. Indeed, business leaders recognize that a workplace without respect cannot succeed. All leaders must build a culture of respect. To do so, they must:
- Teach respect.
- Adapt respect to the environment.
- Model respect, and
- Praise respect.
Whether in school, the work place, or on the street, increasing respect for each other can only improve the human condition.