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The Importance of Respect

The need to show respect to others

by Helen Bryant (revised, originally published in 2009)

Suitable for Key Stage 4/5


To consider the true meaning of respect.

Preparation and materials

  • Have available an image of the front cover of The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley and the means to display it during the assembly. An example is available at:

  • You may wish to display the lists of ways to show respect that appear in the Assembly, Steps 5-6.


  1. In 1862, Charles Kingsley wrote a children’s novel that he called The Water-Babies, A Fairy Tale for a Land Baby. It tells the story of a young chimney sweep, Tom, who falls into a river after meeting a girl called Ellie and being chased out of her house. When Tom falls into the river, he seems to drown and is transformed into a ‘water-baby’.

    Tom goes on to have many adventures and learn many lessons. When he has proved himself to be moral, he makes friends with other water-babies. In his new underwater world, the main leaders are Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby, Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid and Mother Carey. Once a week, Tom is allowed to spend time with Ellie, who fell into the river some time after Tom. 

    Grimes, Tom’s old master, drowns, too, and in his final adventure, Tom travels to the end of the world to help Grimes, who is being punished for his misdeeds, to repent.

    By proving that he is willing to do things that 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.

  2. 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.

  3. We are often told to ‘show respect’. But what does it mean?

    You may wish to listen to a range of responses.

  4. 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.’

  5. Showing respect means:

    – Taking seriously what other people feel, say and do, and taking their preferences and wishes into account.
    – Not dismissing other people or 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.

    Showing respect doesnt mean that we always have to agree with the other person, but we should be prepared to listen and share our views without rudeness or impatience.

  6. The people to whom we should show respect may be:

    – Our parents and elders. In the Bible, one of the Ten Commandments is the command to honour our father and mother.
    – Our teachers and anyone in a position of authority.
    – Our peers, friends and siblings.
    – Anyone with whom we come into contact.

    We should show respect to 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.

Time for reflection

Showing respect to others is important. When we show respect to others, they respect us. We cannot expect to be respected by people if we do not respect them.

Respect has to come from both sides. It is the foundation of any relationship. If respect is lost, the relationship will never be the same unless that respect is earned again in some way.

When respect is a two-way process, 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 slavery, the Holocaust and apartheid to see where lack of respect and the devaluing of others leads.

Let us grow in respect for ourselves and one another.

Let’s pause to think of the people with whom we regularly come into contact.

Let’s decide how we could be more respectful to just one person today.

Publication date: February 2019   (Vol.21 No.2)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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