Earning Respect

It is a near unavoidable feature of human social life that we, for health or unhealthy reasons, seek to earn the respect of others, especially in specific domains of activity.. Some of us seek to earn the respect of colleagues, so we may be taken more seriously at work; while others of us seek to earn the respect of peers, so we can feel a sense of belonging. We all seek to earn respect from one another.

However, as much as all opinions are of unequal persuasion, so too are all instances of respect earned. The opinion of an ordinary citizen on medicine is in most cases less persuasive than the opinion of a medical expert on the exact same topic; the opinion of a financial expert should indeed be more persuasive, on average, than the financial opinions of our friends. And so by the same token, the respect earned by someone extraordinary is more cherishable than the respect earned by someone ordinary.

That is not to say the respect of the ordinary is worthless, as many of us are quite ordinary in one way or another; but it does suggest a higher value on the respect earned from someone extraordinary.  But why is that so?

In part because those who are ordinary have not undergone the difficult journey to become extraordinary. They are less refined in their judgements because they do not have the arduous experience often associated with extraordinary. Which results also in a lower threshold for respect to be given. A novice fighter will give most readily their respect to another novice who gives them a challenge; however, an expert fighter would not be so willing to give respect to a novice, simply because the novice has not earned their respect by providing for them a challenge. So, due to the massive disparity in development, it is harder to earn the genuine respect of an expert; which means when we do earn the respect of an expert, our gratification should increase in equal proportion to that respect.

In addition to the above, the masses are often blind. To earn the respect of the many average  among us is in some sense to earn respect for only a fraction of who you present yourself to be. Many people only come to know you as who you present to be, and who you present to be can be slightly, if not radically, different than who you actually are. The expert does not suffer from that sort of shortcoming. An expert, being both an individual and having a trained eye can overcome those shortcomings.

An expert, on the one hand, can avoid the group think associated with the masses by knowing the difference between opinions based on hype and opinions based on matters of fact for the subject involved; and, on the other hand, the expert can often tell the difference between someone who pretends when in public and who actually has skill. If you are someone who has slightly above average skills, and proceed to show those skills to the public, who are subsequently amazed, then you have tricked the average person. Yet, the expert, knowing precisely how close to average those skills are, will demand to see more; so they avoid being fooled into the perception of skill.

Lastly, and most plainly, to earn the respect of an extraordinary person is all the more wonderful because we have an interest in what they are masters at. Rare is the person who is extraordinary at many things; and so when we earn the respect of an extraordinary person, it is likely in their field of expertise. And if we have earned their respect in that area, it is because we have interest in that area. We have pursued to a great degree the skills of their field, and have won their respect for doing so.

Those reasons alone demand that our gratification from respect earned increase more so than the respect earned from the masses. And so for those reasons alone, the respect earned from an extraordinary person is greater than the respect earned from the masses. The respect given to celebrities by the masses is cheap, but the respect given to a newly trained pianist by other piano experts is priceless.

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Ideasinhat is a business development analyst and longtime reader of academic literature. He writes books and essays on science and philosophy, and posts them to this website. The essays, as with the books, cover topics from psychology, philosophy, and cognitive science to economics, politics, and law.

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