Responsibility is Taken, Respect is Earned

“‘I must do something’ always solves more problems than ‘Something must be done.’”  ~Author Unknown

While respect – a positive feeling of esteem for another person – and responsibility – being accountable – are two different values, they are closely linked in a happy life. Children who learn to show respect at a young age will likely be more responsible adults, and children who are given responsibility at a young age will learn to respect the power of work and accountability. In the chain of global human values, respect and responsibility complement the values of love, compassion, peace and integrity, all values that transcend the globe and appear as positive facets in every culture, race, region and society.

Whether it is respecting another person’s property (toys) or being responsible enough to mind a younger sibling, and whether it is respecting an adult’s wisdom or taking responsibility for an issue in the classroom, neighborhood or society, learning the values of respect and responsibility early in life can smooth the transition to adulthood and help children better understand the world around them. Likewise, children who showcase these global values are less likely to bully, be violent or drop out of school, according to several studies on respect and responsibility in the school setting.

Respect can mean understanding that people might look, talk and live a little differently, but that we are all deserving of and happiness. Responsibility takes respect into action, acknowledging that everything is easier when the burden is shared. These global values can help children shape their lives in a positive way and achieve personal and professional success.

For example, a child who learns responsibility by taking care of his dog – walking the dog, feeding the dog, cleaning up after the dog – will be better prepared for parenthood. The same child who begs for a dog, but then does nothing to care for it will think that dogs (and, in turn, humans) magically get taken care of, regardless of personal responsibility. Likewise, a teen who volunteers with underprivileged children will learn to respect what she has at home and appreciate the small things. Kids who are never exposed to people who are different or less fortunate will not learn these same lessons. These experiences also teach compassion and integrity.

Nelson Mandela

Cover of Nelson Mandela

Some leading examples of respect and responsibility shine through in the peace and integration work of Martin Luther King, Jr., in the struggle to eliminate apartheid by Nelson Mandela and the dedication to ending slavery in the United States by President Abraham Lincoln. Through respect, responsibility and dedication, these men literally changed the world we live in.

As you work to show your children and family members the value of respect and responsibility in a happy, healthy life, consider the following tips on respect and responsibility for parents, leaders, caregivers, politicians and educators:

  • Respect is earned.  Be a shining example for the children in your life. Respect where you are, the work you have put in and who are you. Show respect and give respect to others. Show compassion and understanding.
  • Take responsibility for your actions. If you are always blaming being late on the driver in the car in front of you, blaming your boss for your troubles at work or blaming your parents for any perceived shortcomings, your children will learn the same behavior. Take a good look at your habits when it comes to taking – or shifting – responsibility.
  • Be human, humble and respect others. If you hear your child or family member making fun of a neighbor kid or someone on TV who looks different than they do, stop, discuss the issue and let them know that being respectful means being inclusive.
  • Give your kids responsibility. Whether it is doing the laundry, helping with the dinner dishes, taking care of a family pet, or walking to school with a younger sibling or neighbor, it is healthy for kids to develop responsibility at a young age. Make sure they are accountable and reward good behavior with praise and celebration.
  • Respect the world around you. Certainly, people deserve respect, but so does the environment – the rivers, parks, sidewalks and neighborhood – and the animals living there. Get involved in preservation efforts, make sure you don’t litter or use more than your fair share, and show your kids that you respect the world you live in.
  • Be responsible to your kids. Show up for them, listen to them, respond to them. Being responsible isn’t just doing the bare minimum, but it’s going the extra mile to show your kids and family that you are accountable, reliable, compassionate and sincere.

The younger your kids are when you start reinforcing respect and responsibility, the better. Kids need to learn from their (and sometimes your) mistakes. Reinforcing good habits at a young age can go a long way towards creating responsible, respectful students, friends, employees and citizens.

When you learn to respect yourself, you learn to stand up for yourself when needed. When you learn to accept responsibility, you learn to recognize when someone is trying to shirk their responsibilities. Teaching, sharing and showing these global human values helps kids understand their value as human being.

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