“Respect was invented to cover the empty place where love should be” is a quotation from Leo Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina and remains central to my understanding of the concept of respect. To illustrate why I think this rather controversial statement has merit, I would like to recount an event that occurred when I was in the First Form that seems rather trivial but has stuck with me all these years.
I had been let out late of Period 8 one day and I was dashing for the train, but I was unlikely to make it as I was struggling under a large games bag. Seeing this, a Sixth Form student who was passing stopped to help me and ran with me carrying my bag all the way to the station where we both narrowly made the train. This small act of kindness exemplified a key distinction in two very different types of respect that can be shown. The first type of respect refers to an admiration for a person’s abilities or achievements, but it is the other respect that is a an unearned consideration for the interests of others that is far more valuable.
When the Sixth Form student stopped to help, he did not know me or care that I was in the First Form, but he took the time to help me anyway and it was that respect that he showed just a few weeks in to my time at the School that first made me feel like part of a larger community.
To return to Tolstoy’s quotation, I think he is clearly correct in saying that respect that we show towards others, which is conditional on an admiration for their abilities, is a shallow temporary respect. And that this place should instead be filled by a respect that is driven by an empathetic Agapeic love for all others.
This is why I implore you to do what is perhaps one of the most challenging yet important things in a school such as this one where everyone is constantly focused on who’s got the best exam result or is the best player on the sports pitch in pushing yourself to treat all others with a respect that is motivated by empathy rather than adulation.