Secondary: Current Assemblies
Key Stage 4/Key Stage 5
To consider the true meaning of the commonly used word, ‘respect’.
Preparation and materials
- In the late 1800s, the Revd Charles Kingsley wrote a children’s novel which he called, The Water-Babies: A Fairy Tale for a Land Baby. It tells the tale of a young chimney sweep, Tom, who falls into a river after coming across an upper-class girl named Ellie and being chased out of her house. When Tom falls into the river he dies and is transformed into a ‘water-baby’, as he is told by a caddis fly – an insect that sheds its skin – and Tom begins his moral education.
Tom embarks on a series of adventures and lessons, and once he has proved himself a moral creature, he enjoys the friendship of other water-babies.
The major spiritual leaders in his new world are the fairies Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby, Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid, and Mother Carey. Once a week, Tom is allowed the company of Ellie, who also fell into the river.
Grimes, Tom’s old master, drowns as well, and in his final adventure Tom travels to the end of the world to attempt to help Grimes, who is being punished for his misdeeds. Tom helps Grimes to find repentance, and Grimes will be given a second chance if he can successfully perform a final penance.
By proving his willingness to do things he does not like, if they are the right things to do, Tom gains self-respect and respect for others, and earns himself a return to human form.
- Immanuel Kant was an eighteenth-century philosopher who taught that right action does not depend on feelings but conforms to a moral law given by reason. He called this law ‘the categorical imperative’ and he said that it is innate, part of the make-up of every human being. The term ‘categorical imperative’ denotes an absolute, unconditional moral requirement that asserts its authority in all circumstances. It governs all behaviour. It has to be obeyed for its own sake: not because of any good that might come out of obedience.
The requirement to show respect conforms to the categorical imperative; it is a universal moral rule.
- We are often told to ‘show respect’. But what does it mean?
One definition is this: ‘the intention, unprejudiced consideration and regard for the rights, values, beliefs and property of all people. It is a positive feeling of esteem, regard or admiration for someone or something. It is a virtue, a good quality that makes us value and revere somebody.’
To show respect means:
– taking seriously what other people feel, say and do, and taking their preferences and wishes seriously;
– not dismissing other people, not making fun of them. When we make fun of other people’s ideas, we are showing disrespect for who they are;
– trying to understand other people when they are different from us, and trying to learn from them;
– treating other people with politeness and courtesy;
– recognizing one another as fellow human beings with equal rights;
– it does not mean that we always agree with the other person but that we are prepared to listen and share our views without rudeness or impatience.
- The people we are to show respect to may be:
– our elders and our parents (in the Bible, one of the Ten Commandments is the command to honour our father and our mother);
our teachers, and people in any kind of authority;
our peers, friends and even our siblings;
– and ourselves, too. Jesus gives the commandment to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’. Respect needs to start with respect for ourselves and our own unique contribution to our homes, schools and communities.
- The importance of respect
When we show respect to others, they will respect us. You cannot expect to be respected by someone if you do not respect them.
Respect has to come from both sides. It is the foundation of any relationship that you have and once that respect is lost, the relationship will never be the same unless that respect is earned again in some way.
When respect is two way, we can work together. Under a banner of mutual respect we get things done more effectively.
Albert Schweitzer said, ‘Only those who respect the personality of others can be of real use to them.’
We all know of times in history when one group of people has disrespected the rights of another group and we know the consequences of this. We only need to look at the Holocaust and the issues surrounding slavery, and apartheid in South Africa, to see where lack of respect and the devaluing of others leads.
Let us grow in respect for ourselves and one another.
Time for reflection
Every one of the major world religions has at its heart what is called ‘the golden rule’: that you treat other people in the way you would want them to treat you.
Think of the people who you regularly come into contact with. Spend a few moments thinking about how we break ‘the golden rule’ every day.
Now decide how you could be more respectful to just one person who you have thought not worthy of your respect: how will that new respect be seen?
‘In Christ there is no East or West’ (Come and Praise, 66)