Respect: Ethical & Cultural

Respect is an ambiguous word.  The various ways people interpret, give and expect respect all contribute to an environment of harmony, chaos, and everything in between.  Understanding and properly applying the differences between ethical and cultural respect should help people achieve greater peace and harmony.

Ethical Respect—Ethics can be defined as a system of values which are deemed good and right by humankind.  Killing, stealing and lying to others are extreme examples of unethical disrespect.  Being kind, courteous and truthful to others are examples of ethical respect.  Almost all people rightfully believe in treating others ethically and in expecting such in return.

Cultural Respect—Culture affects everyone.  Every day people interact with others who are, to some degree, culturally different.  The qualities, traditions and manners which are valued by each person can clash though.

  • The sarcasm of an American can disturb and hurt someone who doesn’t understand their humor
  • A lady might be offended if her date doesn’t open her doors for her
  • An Asian could be bothered by someone who walks around in their home with their shoes on
  • A religious member might be offended by the casual dress worn by another at church
  • Certain four-letter words might offend someone who isn’t accustomed to that culture’s language

There are two points of view to analyze when dealing with each of these scenarios; first is the perspective of the offended; the second is the perspective of the offender.

The offended, in this context, is someone who feels they are being disrespected solely due to an infringement of their own cultural expectation.  This is cultural entitlement mentality.  Is it just for a person to expect people from different cultures to conform to their own cultural preferences?  No.  Are they right by thinking they are a victim of disrespect just because someone thinks, speaks or acts differently than they’d prefer on a cultural level?  No.

The offender, on the other hand, is the person that, either knowingly or through ignorance, has infringed on someone’s cultural expectation.  If someone knowingly and unregretfully infringes on someone’s cultural expectation they have great cause to repent.  It is each person’s duty to learn or be aware of other people’s cultural expectations and reasonably abide by them.  By thus applying the golden rule- offense is minimized and peace/harmony abound.  The saying, “Give 100%, expect 0% and you’ll never be disappointed” is a fair and applicable promise when it comes to how someone treats others culturally.

Introspectively, should cultural respect be given?  Yes, within reason.  But should it be expected from others?  No.  On the other hand should ethical respect be given?  Yes, always.  Should it be expected from others?  Also yes.

Ethical Respect Cultural Respect
Given? Yes *Yes
Expected? Yes No

*Cultural respect should be given within reason  (For example, you might not compromise on your dietary code just to please someone else)

All too often a person feels they are entitled to what they call respect but they confuse the cultural for the ethical.  Understanding the distinction between culture and ethics is crucial when determining how one gives and expects respect in a just and honest way.