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Empathy is hot in business wisdom these days: Forbes says it’sinvaluable, Apple’s training manual offers empathy exercises, and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson calls caring “key.”

“Corporate empathy is not an oxymoron,” concluded an article in theHarvard Business Review on January 8. “It is a hard skill that should be required from the board-room to the shop floor.”

Indeed, fellow-feeling has come to be seen as a means to a better bottom line. An empathetic customer service representative creates customer loyalty, while an empathetic manager creates engagement and employee loyalty—deeply necessary in a world where 70% of workers say they are not enthusiastic about their jobs, reports Forbes.

Companies offering “empathy training” have popped up everywhere, often leveraging the old adage that to empathize with someone, you must first “walk a mile in his shoes.” In other words, if you are a manager who has overcome one of life’s many challenges, you are naturally well-placed to empathize with employees facing similar struggles, and help them find a way through.

But people who have suffered are often the least compassionate.

Our research shows that people who have gone through difficult experiences tend to be the harshest critics of those who are struggling or unable to cope. In this case, another old line is perhaps more applicable: familiarity breeds contempt.

We tested compassion among adults in a series of five studies from January 2012 to February 2014: In one study, people participating in a polar plunge—a jump into icy Lake Michigan—read about a man named Pat who backed out of the plunge at the last minute because of the cold. People who had successfully completed the plunge were less compassionate and more contemptuous of poor Pat than were those who had yet to complete the plunge. Numerous studies link empathy to better business results. 

In another study, 323 online participants evaluated a teenager who was presented as either successfully coping with bullying, or failing to cope by lashing out violently. Those who had endured bullying themselves were more compassionate toward the bullied teen who successfully coped with his abuse, compared to people who had never been bullied.

But those who had endured bullying themselves were the least compassionate when the teenager reacted badly to being bullied.

Why? For one, people often don’t accurately remember the emotional distress of difficult times. Moreover, because they overcame hardship, they tend to view it as a life event that can be readily conquered.

The combined experience of “I can’t recall how difficult it was” and “I did it myself” can lead to decreased compassion and increased contempt for others in similar straits.

But worryingly, because most people assume shared experiences produce compassion, suffering people are actualy more likely to seek comfort or advice from those who are the least likely to provide it. Teach people to place less emphasis on their own past challenges. 

As part of our study, we asked people to decide whether a teacher who endured bullying, or one who had never been bullied, would be more compassionate towards a bullied student. Overwhelmingly, they chose the teacher who had been bullied.

Our work has broad implications. There is widespread belief in the power of shared experiences to create compassion. Many social programs are designed with the input of those who have already experienced addiction, dropped out of school, or lived in poverty. But having these experiences does not ensure empathy towards others

At the corporate level, this means that employees should be aware that their intuitions about who to approach for help or advice may, at times, be incorrect. Employers should be aware that instilling an empathetic culture is not as straightforward as it seems. And managers should be aware that sharing an experience with an employee may make them less likely to view that person compassionately.

We know empathy can be taught and that committed leaders can create a more empathetic and compassionate corporate culture. Empathy is the oil that keeps relationships flowing smoothly. It creates bonds of trust, which result in higher-quality teamwork. Numerous studies link empathy to better business results. We believe it is important to continue to inculcate empathy and compassion at work.

To do that, though, businesses first need to understand the dynamics of empathy.

One way may be to teach people to place less emphasis, not more, on their own past challenges. For example, a manager who has overcame addiction might consider statistics on relapse when dealing with an employee struggling to find sobriety, rather than judging them based on her own experience.

Perhaps sadly, walking in another’s shoes is not enough to understand that person’s struggles and to create a caring corporate culture. And in that sense, compassion is indeed a hard skill—as complicated as it is powerful.


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Respect has great importance in everyday life. As children we are taught (one hopes) to respect our parents, teachers, and elders, school rules and traffic laws, family and cultural traditions, other people’s feelings and rights, our country’s flag and leaders, the truth and people’s differing opinions.

And we come to value respect for such things; when we’re older, we may shake our heads (or fists) at people who seem not to have learned to respect them. We develop great respect for people we consider exemplary and lose respect for those we discover to be clay-footed, and so we may try to respect only those who are truly worthy of our respect.

We may also come to believe that, at some level, all people are worthy of respect. We may learn that jobs and relationships become unbearable if we receive no respect in them; in certain social milieus we may learn the price of disrespect if we violate the street law: “Diss me, and you die.”

We may also learn that how our lives go depends every bit as much on whether we respect ourselves. The value of self-respect may be something we can take for granted, or we may discover how very important it is when our self-respect is threatened, or we lose it and have to work to regain it, or we have to struggle to develop or maintain it in a hostile environment.

It is part of everyday wisdom that respect and self-respect are deeply connected, that it is difficult if not impossible both to respect others if we don’t respect ourselves and to respect ourselves if others don’t respect us. It is increasingly part of political wisdom both that unjust social institutions can devastatingly damage self-respect and that robust and resilient self-respect can be a potent force in struggles against injustice.

The ubiquity and significance of respect and self-respect in everyday life largely explains why philosophers, particularly in moral and political philosophy, have been interested in these two concepts. They turn up in a multiplicity of philosophical contexts, including discussions of justice and equality, injustice and oppression, autonomy and agency, moral and political rights and duties, moral motivation and moral development, cultural diversity and toleration, punishment and political violence.

The concepts are also invoked in bioethics, environmental ethics, business ethics, workplace ethics, and a host of other applied ethics contexts. Although a wide variety of things are said to deserve respect, contemporary philosophical interest in respect has overwhelmingly been focused on respect for persons, the idea that all persons should be treated with respect simply because they are persons. Respect for persons is a central concept in many ethical theories; some theories treat it as the very essence of morality and the foundation of all other moral duties and obligations.

This focus owes much to the 18th century German philosopher, Immanuel Kant, who argued that all and only persons (i.e., rational autonomous agents) and the moral law they autonomously legislate are appropriate objects of the morally most significant attitude of respect. Although honour, esteem, and prudential regard played important roles in moral and political theories before him, Kant was the first major Western philosopher to put respect for persons, including oneself as a person, at the very centre of moral theory, and his insistence that persons are ends in themselves with an absolute dignity who must always be respected has become a core ideal of modern humanism and political liberalism. In recent years many people have argued that moral respect ought also to be extended to things other than persons, such as nonhuman living things and the natural environment.

Philosophers have variously identified it as a mode of behaviour, a form of treatment, a kind of valuing, a type of attention, a motive, an attitude, a feeling, a tribute, a principle, a duty, an entitlement, a moral virtue, an epistemic virtue. Much philosophical work has gone into explicating differences and links among the various kinds. One general distinction is between respect simply as behaviour and respect as an attitude or feeling which may or may not be expressed in or signified by behaviour.

An attitude of respect is, most generally, a relation between a subject and an object in which the subject responds to the object from a certain perspective in some appropriate way. Respect necessarily has an object: respect is always directed toward, paid to, felt about, and shown for some object. While a very wide variety of things can be appropriate objects of one kind of respect or another, the subject of respect (the respecter) is always a person, that is, a conscious rational being capable of recognizing and acknowledging things, of self-consciously and intentionally responding to them, of having and expressing values with regard to them, and of being accountable for disrespecting or failing to respect them.

Respect is a responsive relation, and ordinary discourse about respect identifies several key elements of the response, including attention, deference, judgment, acknowledgment, valuing, and behaviour. First, as suggested by its derivation from the Latin respicere, which means “to look back at” or “to look again,” respect is a particular mode of apprehending the object: the person who respects something pays attention to it and perceives it differently from someone who does not and responds to it in light of that perception.

The idea of paying heed or giving proper attention to the object which is central to respect often means trying to see the object clearly, as it really is in its own right, and not seeing it solely through the filter of one’s own desires and fears or likes and dislikes. Thus, respecting something contrasts with being oblivious or indifferent to it, ignoring or quickly dismissing it, neglecting or disregarding it, or carelessly or intentionally misidentifying it.

An object can be perceived by a subject from a variety of perspectives; for example, one might rightly regard another human individual as a rights-bearer, a judge, a superlative singer, a trustworthy person, or a threat to one’s security. The respect one accords her in each case will be different, yet all will involve attention to her as she really is as a judge, threat, etc. It is in virtue of this aspect of careful attention that respect is sometimes thought of as an epistemic virtue.

As responsive, respect is object-generated rather than wholly subject-generated, something that is owed to, called for, deserved, elicited, or claimed by the object. We respect something not because we want to but because we recognize that we have to respect it (Wood 1999); respect involves “a deontic experience”—the experience that one must pay attention and respond appropriately (Birch 1993). It thus is motivational: it is the recognition of something “as directly determining our will without reference to what is wanted by our inclinations” (Rawls 2000, 153).

In this way respect differs from, for example, liking and fearing, which have their sources in the subject’s interests or desires. When we respect something, we heed its call, accord it it’s due, and acknowledge its claim to our attention. Thus, respect involves deference, in the most basic sense of yielding: self-absorption and egocentric concerns give way to consideration of the object, one’s motives or feelings submit to the object’s reality, one is disposed to act in obedience to the object’s demands.

At the same time, respect is also an expression of agency: it is deliberate, a matter of directed rather than grabbed attention, of reflective consideration and judgment. In particular, the subject judges that the object is due, deserves, or rightfully claims a certain response in virtue of some feature of or fact about the object that warrants that response. This feature or fact is the ground or basis in the object, that in virtue of which it calls for respect. The basis gives us a reason to respect the object; it may also indicate more precisely how to respect it. Respect is thus reason-governed: we cannot respect a particular object for just any old reason or for no reason at all. Rather, we respect an object for the reason that it has, in our judgment, some respect-warranting characteristic, that it is, in our view, the kind of object that calls for that kind of response (Cranor 1975; but see Buss 1999 for disagreement).

Respect is thus both subjective and objective. It is subjective in that the subject’s response is constructed from her understanding of the object and its characteristics and her judgments about the legitimacy of its call and how fittingly to address the call. An individual’s respect for an object can thus be inappropriate or unwarranted, for the object may not have the features she takes it to have, or the features she takes to be respect-warranting might not be, or her idea of how properly to treat the object might be mistaken.

But, as object-generated, the logic of respect is the logic of objectivity and universality, in four ways. First, in respecting an object, we respond to it not as an extension of feelings, desires, and interests we already have, but as something whose significance is independent of us. Second, we experience the object as constraining our attitudes and actions. Third, our reasons for respecting something are, we logically have to assume, reasons for other people to respect it (or at least to endorse our respect for it from a common point of view). Respect is thus, an impersonal response to the object. Fourth, respect is universalizing, subjectivity defers to objectivity.

Some things are dangerous or powerful and respect of them can involve fear, awe, self-protection, or submission. Other things have authority over us and the respect they are due includes acknowledgment of their authority and perhaps obedience to their authoritative commands. Other forms of respect are modes of valuing, appreciating the object as having an objective worth or importance that is independent of, perhaps even at variance with, our antecedent desires or commitments. Thus, we can respect things we don’t like or agree with, such as our enemies or someone else’s opinion. Valuing respect is kin to esteem, admiration, veneration, reverence, and honour, while regarding something as utterly worthless or insignificant or disdaining or having contempt for it is incompatible with respecting it. Respect also aims to value its object appropriately, so it contrasts with degradation and discounting. Respect is sometimes identified as a feeling; it is typically the experiencing of something as valuable that is in focus in these cases.

Finally, respect is generally regarded as having a behavioural component. In respecting an object, we often consider it to be making legitimate claims on our conduct as well as our thoughts and feelings and are disposed to behave appropriately. Appropriate behaviour includes refraining from certain treatment of the object or acting only in particular ways in connection with it, ways that are regarded as fitting, deserved by, or owed to the object. And there are very many ways to respect things: keeping our distance from them, helping them, praising or emulating them, obeying or abiding by them, not violating or interfering with them, destroying them in some ways rather than letting them be destroyed in others, protecting or being careful with them, talking about them in ways that reflect their worth or status, mourning them, nurturing them.

The attitudes of respect, then, have cognitive dimensions (beliefs, acknowledgments, judgments, deliberations, commitments), affective dimensions (emotions, feelings, ways of experiencing things), and conative dimensions (motivations, dispositions to act and forbear from acting); some forms also have valuational dimensions.

Kant’s writings on Achtung (the German word usually translated as “respect”), Feinberg (1975) identifies three distinct concepts for which “respect” has been the name. Respekt, is the “uneasy and watchful attitude that has ‘the element of fear’ in it” (1975). Its objects are dangerous things or things with power over the subject. Respekt contrasts with contemptuous disregard; it is shown in conduct that is cautious, self-protective, and other-placating.

The second concept, observantia, is the moralized analogue of respekt. It involves regarding the object as making a rightful claim on our conduct, as deserving moral consideration in its own right, independently of considerations of personal wellbeing. Observantia encompasses both the respect said to be owed to all humans equally and the forms of polite respect and deference that acknowledge different social positions.

The third concept, is the special feeling of profound awe and respect we have in the presence of something extraordinary or sublime, a feeling that both humbles and uplifts us. On Kant’s account, the moral law and people who exemplify it in morally worthy actions elicit reverentia from us, for we experience the law or its exemplification as “something that always trumps our inclinations in determining our wills” (Feinberg 1975, 2).

Hudson (1980) draws a four-fold distinction among kinds of respect, according to the bases in the objects. Evaluative respect, is similar to other favourable attitudes such as esteem and admiration; it is earned or deserved (or not) depending on whether and to the degree that the object is judged to meet certain standards.

Obstacle respect, is a matter of regarding the object as something that, if not taken proper account of in one’s decisions about how to act, could prevent one from achieving one’s ends.

Directive respect are directives: things such as requests, rules, advice, laws, or rights claims that may be taken as guides to action. One respects a directive when one’s behaviours intentionally comply with it.

Institutional respect are social institutions or practices, the positions or roles defined within an institution or practice, and persons or things that occupy the positions or represent the institution. Institutional respect is shown by behaviour that conforms to rules that prescribe certain conduct as respectful.

To Hudson’s four-fold classification, Dillon (1992a) adds a fifth form, care respect, which is exemplified in an environmentalist’s deep respect for nature. Care respect involves regarding the object as having profound and perhaps unique value and so cherishing it, and perceiving it as fragile or calling for special care and so acting or forbearing to act out of felt benevolent concern for it. This analysis of respect draws explicitly from a feminist ethics of care and has been influential in feminist and non-feminist discussions of respecting persons as unique, particular individuals.

In everyday discourse, the valuing sense of respect, especially when used about people, most commonly means thinking highly of someone, i.e., evaluative respect. However, philosophical attention to respect has tended to focus on recognition (or, sometimes, reverential) respect that acknowledges or values the object from a moral point of view. These discussions tend to relate such respect to the concepts of moral standing or moral worth. Moral standing, or moral considerability, is the idea that certain things matter morally in their own right and so are appropriate objects of direct fundamental moral consideration or concern (Birch 1993, P. Taylor 1986).

Alternatively, it is argued that certain things have a distinctive kind of intrinsic and incomparable moral worth or value, often called “dignity,” in virtue of which they ought to be accorded some valuing form of moral recognition or reverential respect.

People can be the objects or recipients of different forms of respect. We can (directive) respect a person’s legal rights, show (institutional) respect for the president by calling him “Mr. President,” have a healthy (obstacle) respect (respekt) for an easily angered person, (care) respect someone by cherishing her in her concrete particularity, (evaluative) respect an individual for her commitment to a worthy project, and accord one person the same basic moral respect we think any person deserves.

In the literature of moral and political philosophy, the notion of respect for persons commonly means a kind of respect that all people are owed morally just because they are persons, regardless of social position, individual characteristics or achievements, or moral merit. This is sometimes expressed in terms of rights: persons, it is said, have a fundamental moral right to respect simply because they are persons. And it is a commonplace that persons are owed or have a right to equal respect.

In trying to clarify who or what we are obligated to respect, we are naturally led to a question about the ground or basis of respect: What is it about persons that makes them matter morally and makes them worthy of respect? One common way of answer this question is to look for some morally significant natural quality that is common to all beings that are noncontroversial owed respect (for example, all normal adult humans). Candidate qualities include the ability to be moved by considerations of moral obligation, the ability to value appropriately, the ability to reason, and the ability to engage in reciprocal relationships.

Finally, there are questions about how we are supposed to respect persons, such as: What standards for conduct and character give appropriate expression to the attitude of respect? Some philosophers argue that the obligation to respect person functions as a negative constraint: respect involves refraining from regarding or treating persons in certain ways. For example, we ought not to treat them as if they were worthless or had value only insofar as we find them useful or interesting, or as if they were mere objects or specimens, or as if they were vermin or dirt; we ought not to violate their basic moral rights, or interfere with their efforts to make their own decisions and govern their own conduct, or humiliate them, or treat them in ways that flout their nature and worth as persons.

Others maintain that we also have positive duties of respect: we ought, for example, to try to see each of them and the world from their own points of view, or help them to promote their morally acceptable ends, or protect them from their own self-harming decisions.

And some philosophers note that it may be more respectful to judge someone’s actions or character negatively or to punish someone for wrongdoing than to treat them as if they were not responsible for what they did, although requirements of respect would impose limits on how such judgments may be expressed and how persons may be punished.

Another question is whether treating people with respect requires treating them equally. One view is that the equality of persons entails equal treatment; another view is that equal treatment would involve failing to respect the important differences among persons. On the latter view, it is respectful to deal with each individual impartially and exclusively on the basis of whatever aspects of the individual or the situation are relevant (Frankfurt 1999).

The most influential position on these issues is found in the moral philosophy of Immanuel Kant (1785, 1788, and 1797). Indeed, most contemporary discussions of respect for persons explicitly claim to rely on, develop, or challenge some aspect of Kant’s ethics. Central to Kant’s ethical theory is the claim that all persons are owed respect just because they are persons, that is, free rational beings.

To be a person is to have a status and worth that is unlike that of any other kind of being: it is to be an end in itself with dignity. And the only response that is appropriate to such a being is respect. Respect (that is, moral recognition respect) is the acknowledgment in attitude and conduct of the dignity of persons as ends in themselves. Respect for such beings is not only appropriate but also morally and unconditionally required: the status and worth of persons is such that they must always be respected.

Because we are all too often inclined not to respect persons, not to value them as they ought to be valued, one formulation of the Categorical Imperative, which is the supreme principle of morality, commands that our actions express due respect for the worth of persons: “Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or the person of any other, never simply as a means but always at the same time as an end” (Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten (Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals) (1785/1996, 4:429).

Our fundamental moral obligation, then, is to respect persons; morally right actions are thus those that express respect for persons as ends in themselves, while morally wrong actions are those that express disrespect or contempt for persons by not valuing them as ends in themselves (Wood 1999).

Note that it is not wrong to treat persons as means to our ends; indeed we could not get along in life if we could not make use of the talents, abilities, service, and labour of other people. What we must not do is to treat persons as mere means to our ends, to treat them as if the only value they have is what derives from their usefulness to us. We must always treat them “at the same time as an end.”

To respect persons is thus to regard them as absolutely, unconditionally, and incomparably valuable, to value them in themselves and not just in comparison to others or insofar as they are valuable to someone or could be useful as a means for furthering some purpose, and to acknowledge in a practical way that their dignity imposes absolute constraints on our treatment of them.

This duty of recognition respect owed to others requires two things: first, that we adopt as a regulating policy a commitment to control our own desire to think well of ourselves (this desire being the main cause of disrespect), and, second, that we refrain from treating others in the following ways: treating them merely as means (valuing them as less than ends in themselves), showing contempt for them (denying that they have any worth), treating them arrogantly (demanding that they value us more highly than they value themselves), defaming them by publicly exposing their faults, and ridiculing or mocking them. We also have duties of love to others, and Kant argues that in friendship respect and love, which naturally pull in opposite directions, achieve a perfect balance.

The importance of autonomy and agency in Kant’s moral philosophy has led many philosophers to highlight respect for autonomy. Thus, we respect others as persons (negatively) by doing nothing to impair or destroy their capacity for autonomy, by not interfering with their autonomous decisions and their pursuit of (morally acceptable) the ends they value, and by not coercing or deceiving them or treating them paternalistically.

We also respect them (positively) by protecting them from threats to their autonomy (which may require intervention when someone’s current decisions seem to put their own autonomy at risk) and by promoting autonomy and the conditions for it (for example, by allowing and encouraging individuals to make their own decisions, take responsibility for their actions, and control their own lives). Some have claimed that the duty to respect is nothing more than the duty to refrain from violating these rights (Benn 1988, Feinberg 1970).

In recognizing the moral law we are conscious of the law as having absolute authority, we experience the subordination of our will to its commands. This consciousness of subordination involves a painful, humbling feeling insofar as our self-love (our efforts to satisfy our desires and pursue our ends) is constrained and our self-conceit (our attempts to esteem ourselves independently of moral considerations) is struck down by the moral law’s claim to supreme authority. As the way in which we are motivated to obey the moral law, reverential respect for the law is thus the way in which we are motivated to treat persons with recognition respect as the law commands us to do.

Reverential respect for morally good persons contrasts with the duty to give recognition respect to all persons in our attitudes and conduct, for the former is something we can’t help feeling for some people, while the latter is a way we are obligated to comport ourselves toward all persons regardless of our feelings and their moral performance.

Dignity is, as Kant says in a passage from the Metaphysics of Morals quoted above, that “by which” rational beings “exact” or demand respect from one another (MM, 6: 435). As Darwall puts it, dignity is “the second-personal standing of an equal: the authority to make claims and demands on one another as free and rational agents” and to hold each other accountable for complying with these commands (Darwall 2004, 43, 44). Persons are just those beings who have the standing of authority to address demands to one another as persons. Moral recognition respect for the dignity of persons is acknowledging this authority; we respect one another as persons when we hold each other mutually accountable for complying with the demands that we acknowledge each person has the authority to make of each other person as free and rational agents.

Another area of interest has been the connections between respect and other attitudes and emotions, especially love and between respect and virtues such as trust. For example, Kant (1797) argues that we have duties of love to others just as we have duties of respect. However, neither the love nor the respect we owe is a matter of feeling (or, is pathological, as Kant says), but is, rather, a duty to adopt a certain kind of maxim, or policy of action: the duty of love is the duty to make the ends of others my own, the duty of respect is the duty to not degrade others to the status of mere means to my ends (Kant 1779, 6: 449–450).

Love and respect, in Kant’s view, are intimately united in friendship; nevertheless, they seem to be in tension with one another and respect seems to be the morally more important of the two, in that the duties of respect are stricter and respect constrains and limits love within friendship.

Critics object to what they see here as Kant’s devaluing of emotions, maintaining that emotions are morally significant dimensions of persons both as subjects and as objects of both respect and love. Others have developed accounts of respect that is or incorporates a form of love (agape) or care (Dillon 1992a, Downie and Telfer 1969, Maclagan 1960) and some have argued that emotions are included among the bases of dignity and that a complex emotional repertoire is necessary for Kantian respect (Wood 1999, Sherman 1998a, Farley 1993).

In a related vein, some philosophers maintain that it is possible to acknowledge that another being is a person, i.e., a rational moral agent, and yet not have or give respect to that being. What is required for respecting a person is not simply recognizing what they are but emotionally experiencing their value as a person (Thomas 2001a, Buss 1999, Dillon 1997).

Rather than ignoring what distinguishes one person from another, it is argued, respect should involve attending to each person as a distinctive individual and to the concrete realities of human lives, and it should involve valuing difference as well as sameness and interdependence as well as independence. Other critics respond that respecting differences and particular identities inevitably reintroduces hierarchical discrimination that is antithetical to the equality among persons that the idea of respect for persons is supposed to express (for example, Bird 2004). Identity and difference may, however, be appropriate objects of other forms of consideration and appreciation.

Respect for persons is one of the basic tenets of liberal democratic societies, which are founded on the ideal of the equal dignity of all citizens and which realize this ideal in the equalization of rights and entitlements among all citizens and so the rejection of discrimination and differential treatment.

Some writers argue that respecting persons requires respecting the traditions and cultures that permeate and shape their individual identities (Addis 1997). But as the citizenry of such societies becomes increasingly more diverse and as many groups come to regard their identities or very existence as threatened by a homogenizing equality, liberal societies face the question of whether they should or could respond to demands to respect the unique identity of individuals or groups by differential treatment, such as extending political rights or opportunities to some cultural groups (for example, Native Americans, French Canadians, African-Americans) and not others.

While there is much controversy about respect for persons and other things, there is surprising agreement among moral and political philosophers about at least this much concerning respect for oneself: self-respect is something of great importance in everyday life. Indeed, it is regarded both as morally required and as essential to the ability to live a satisfying, meaningful, flourishing life—a life worth living—and just as vital to the quality of our lives together. Saying that a person has no self-respect or acts in a way no self-respecting person would act, or that a social institution undermines the self-respect of some people, is generally a strong moral criticism.

Nevertheless, as with respect itself, there is philosophical disagreement, both real and merely apparent, about the nature, scope, grounds, and requirements of self-respect. Self-respect is often defined as a sense of worth or as due respect for oneself; it is frequently (but not always correctly) identified with or compared to self-esteem, self-confidence, dignity, self-love, a sense of honour, self-reliance, pride, and it is contrasted (but not always correctly) with servility, shame, humility, self-abnegation, arrogance, self-importance.

Most generally, self-respect is a moral relation of persons (and only persons) to themselves that concerns their own intrinsic worth. Self-respect is thus essentially a valuing form of respect. Like respect for others, self-respect is a complex of multilayered and interpenetrating phenomena; it involves all those aspects of cognition, valuation, affect, expectation, motivation, action, and reaction that compose a mode of being in the world at the heart of which is an appreciation of oneself as having morally significant worth.

Unlike some forms of respect, self-respect is not something one has only now and again or that might have no effect on its object. Rather, self-respect has to do with the structure and attunement of an individual’s identity and of her life, and it reverberates throughout the self, affecting the configuration and constitution of the person’s thoughts, desires, values, emotions, commitments, dispositions, and actions. As expressing or constituting one’s sense of worth, it includes an engaged understanding of one’s worth, as well as a desire and disposition to protect and preserve it. Accounts of self-respect differ in their characterizations of the beliefs, desires, affects, and behaviours that are constitutive of it, chiefly because of differences concerning the aspects or conception of the self insofar as it is the object of one’s respect and the nature and grounds of the worth of the self or aspects of the self.

Kantian dignity is one form, but not the only form, of status worth. Evaluative self-respect, in contrast, has to do with acquired worth, merit, based on the quality of one’s character and conduct. We earn or lose moral merit, and so deserve or don’t deserve evaluative self-respect, through what we do or become. Different sources of status worth yield different configurations of recognition self-respect, but most contemporary discussions, heavily influenced by Kant, focus on dignity-based recognition self-respect.

Recognition respect for oneself as a person, then, involves living in light of an understanding and appreciation of oneself as having dignity and moral status just in virtue of being a person, and of the moral constraints that arise from that dignity and status. All persons are morally obligated or entitled to have this kind of self-respect. Because the dominant Kantian conception of persons grounds dignity in three things—equality, agency, and individuality—we can further distinguish three kinds of recognition self-respect.

The first is respect for oneself as a person among persons, as a member of the moral community with a status and dignity equal to every other person (see, for example, Thomas 1983a, Boxill 1976, and Hill 1973). This involves having some conception of the kinds of treatment from others that would count as one’s due as a person and treatment that would be degrading or beneath one’s dignity, desiring to be regarded and treated appropriately, and resenting and being disposed to protest disregard and disrespectful treatment. Thinking of oneself as having certain moral rights that others ought not to violate is part of this kind of self-respect; servility (regarding oneself as the inferior of others) and arrogance (thinking oneself superior to others) are among its opposites.

The second kind of recognition self-respect involves an appreciation of oneself as an agent, a being with the ability and responsibility to act autonomously and value appropriately (see, for example, G. Taylor 1985, Telfer 1968). Persons who respect themselves as agents take their responsibilities seriously, especially their responsibilities to live in accord with their dignity as persons, to govern themselves fittingly, and to make of themselves and their lives something they believe to be good.

So, self-respecting persons regard certain forms of acting, thinking, desiring, and feeling as befitting them as persons and other forms as self-debasing or shameful, and they expect themselves to adhere to the former and avoid the latter. They take care of themselves and seek to develop and use their talents and abilities in pursuit of their plans, projects, and goals. Those who are shameless, uncontrolled, weak-willed, self-consciously sycophantic, chronically irresponsible, slothfully dependent, self-destructive, or unconcerned with the shape and direction of their lives may be said to not respect themselves as agents.

A third kind of recognition self-respect involves the appreciation of the importance of being autonomously self-defining. One way a self-respecting individual does this is through having, and living in light, of a normative self-conception, i.e., a conception of being and living that she regards as worthy of her as the particular person she is. Such a self-conception both gives expression to ideals and commitments that shape the individual’s identity, and also organizes desires, choices, pursuits, and projects in ways that give substance and worth to the self. Self-respecting people hold themselves to personal expectations and standards the disappointment of which they would regard as unworthy of them, shameful, even contemptible (although they may not apply these standards to others) (Hill 1982). People who sell out, betray their own values, live inauthentic lives, let themselves be defined by others, or are complacently self-accepting lack this kind of recognition self-respect.

Of these three Kantian kinds of recognition self-respect we can add a fourth, which has to do with the fact that it is not just as abstract human beings or as agents with personal and universalisable moral goals and obligations that individuals can, do, or should respect themselves but also as concrete persons embedded in particular social structures and occupying various social positions with status-related responsibilities they must meet to be self-respecting (Middleton 2006).

Evaluative self-respect, which expresses confidence in one’s merit as a person, rests on an appraisal of oneself in light of the normative self-conception that structures recognition self-respect. Recognition self-respecting persons are concerned to be the kind of person they think it is good and appropriate for them to be and they try to live the kind of life such a person should live. Thus they have and try to live by certain standards of worthiness by which they are committed to judge themselves. Indeed, they stake themselves, their value and their identities, on living in accord with these standards.

Because they want to know where they stand, morally, they are disposed to reflectively examine and evaluate their character and conduct in light of their normative vision of themselves. And it matters to them that they are able to “bear their own survey,” as Hume says (1739 (1971), 620). Evaluative self-respect contains the judgment that one is or is becoming the worthy kind of person one seeks to be, and, more significantly, that one is not in danger of becoming an unworthy kind of person (Dillon 2004).

Evaluative self-respect holds, at the least, the judgment that one “comes up to scratch,” as Telfer (1968) puts it. Those whose conduct is unworthy or whose character is shameful by their own standards do not deserve their own evaluative respect. However, people can be poor self-appraisers and their standards can be quite inappropriate to them or to any person, and so their evaluative self-respect, though still subjectively satisfying, can be unwarranted, as can the loss or lack of it.

It is common in everyday discourse and philosophical discussion to treat self-respect and self-esteem as synonyms. It is true that evaluative self-respect and self-esteem both involve appraising oneself favourably in virtue of one’s behaviour and personal traits, and that a person can have or lack either one undeservedly.

Evaluative self-respect involves an assessment from a moral point of view of one’s character and conduct, while self-esteem can be based on personal features that are unrelated to character, and the assessment it involves need not be from a moral point of view: one can have a good opinion of oneself in virtue of being a good joke-teller or having won an important sports competition and yet not think one is a good person because of it (Darwall 1977).

Another way of distinguishing them focuses on what it is to lose them: one would lose evaluative respect for oneself if one judged oneself to be shameful, contemptible, or intolerable, but self-esteem can be diminished by the belief that one lacks highly prized qualities that would add to one’s merit (Harris 2001). Self-respect is also often identified with pride. In one sense, pride is the pleasure or satisfaction taken in one’s achievements, possessions, or associations, and in this sense pride can be an affective element of either evaluative self-respect or self-esteem. In another sense, pride is inordinate self-esteem or vanity, an excessively high opinion of one’s qualities, accomplishments, or status that can make one arrogant and contemptuous of others.

Psychologists, for whom “self-esteem” is the term of practice, tend to regard the various dimensions of a person’s sense of worth as subjective. Many philosophers treat the interpersonal dimension of recognition self-respect objectively, and it is generally thought that having manifestly inaccurate beliefs about oneself is good grounds for at least calling an individual’s sense of worth unjustified or compromised (Meyers 1989).

Kant argues that, just as we have a moral duty to respect others as persons, so we have a moral duty to respect ourselves as persons, a duty that derives from our dignity as rational beings. This duty requires us to act always in an awareness of our dignity and so to act only in ways that are consistent with our status as end in ourselves and to refrain from acting in ways that abase, degrade, defile, or disavow our rational nature. That is, we have a duty of recognition self-respect.

Rawls defines self-respect as including “a person’s sense of his own value, his secure conviction that his conception of the good, his plan of life, is worth carrying out,” and it implies “a confidence in one’s ability, so far as it is within one’s power, to fulfil one’s intentions” (Rawls 1971, 440).

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Buddha Quotes

  • Remember always that you are just a visitor here, a traveller passing through. Your stay is but short and the moment of your departure unknown.
  • Religion is not just some dry intellectual idea but rather your basic philosophy of life: you hear a teaching that makes sense to you, find through experience that it relates positively with your psychological makeup, get a real taste of it through practice, and adopt it as your spiritual path. That’s the right way to enter the spiritual path.
  • Suttas are not meant to be ‘sacred scriptures’ that tell us what to believe. One should read them, listen to them, think about them, contemplate them, and investigate the present reality, the present experience with them. Then, and only then, can one insightfully know the truth beyond words.
  • If you wish others to know about your good deeds, they are not truly good deeds. If you fear others will find out about your bad deeds, those are truly bad deeds. Our lives are based on what is reasonable and common sense; Truth is apt to be neither.
  • All philosophies are mental fabrications.
  • Truth is only as real as our delusion allows.
  • My religion is to live and die without regret.
  • Through violence, you may ‘solve’ one problem, but you sow the seeds for another.
  • War is out of date, obsolete.
  • Having a wider heart and mind is more important than having a larger house.
  • Happiness does not come from having much, but from being attached to little.
  • If you know the psychological nature of your own mind, depression is spontaneously dispelled; instead of being enemies and strangers, all living beings become your friends. The narrow mind rejects; wisdom accepts.
  • The fool thinks he has won a battle when he bullies with harsh speech, but knowing how to be forbearing alone makes one victorious.
  • Conquer the liar with truth.
  • Check your own mind to see whether or not this is true.
  • The only reason we don’t open our hearts and minds to other people is that they trigger confusion in us that we don’t feel brave enough or sane enough to deal with. To the degree that we look clearly and compassionately at ourselves, we feel confident and fearless about looking into someone else’s eyes.
  • So, the tendency of our childish nature is to take small things too seriously and get easily offended, whereas when we are confronted with situations which have long-term consequences, we tend to take things less seriously.
  • Rather, just as we are responsible for our own suffering, so are we solely responsible for our own cure.
  • View all problems as challenges. Look upon negativities that arise as opportunities to learn and to grow. Don’t run from them, condemn yourself, or bury your burden in saintly silence. You have a problem? Great. More grist for the mill. Rejoice, dive in, and investigate.
  • Anything that contradicts experience and logic should be abandoned.
  • The ultimate authority must always rest with the individual’s own reason and critical analysis.
  • Treasure silence when you find it, and while being mindful of your duties, set time aside, to be alone with yourself.
  • Cast off pretence and self-deception and see yourself as you really are.
  • If you haven’t wept deeply, you haven’t begun to meditate.
  • All meditation must begin with arousing deep compassion. Whatever one does must emerge from an attitude of love and benefitting others.
  • One has to try to develop one’s inner feelings, which can be done simply by training one’s mind.
  • Be gentle first with yourself – if you wish to be gentle with others.
  • What is it that binds you? You are not bound by any chains now. Is it just the thought that you are bound that binds you? Mental chains can only be broken by mental effort.
  • Always think of how others are kind and precious. Treat them as you would like to be treated.
  • Be near when help is needed, but far when praise and thanks are being offered.
  • Speak quietly and kindly and be not forward with either opinions or advice. If you talk much, this will make you deaf to what others say, and you should know that there are few so wise that they cannot learn from others.
  • Sometimes one creates a dynamic impression by saying something, and sometimes one creates as significant an impression by remaining silent.
  • Do not speak- unless it improves on silence.
  • You can explore the universe looking for somebody who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and you will not find that person anywhere.
  • The beauty of life is, while we cannot undo what is done, we can see it, understand it, learn from it and change. So that every new moment is spent not in regret, guilt, fear or anger, but in wisdom, understanding and love.
  • Despite all appearances, no one is really evil. They are led astray by ignorance. If you ponder this truth always you will offer more light, rather than blame and condemnation.
  • If the love within your mind is lost and you see other beings as enemies, then no matter how much knowledge or education or material comfort you have, only suffering and confusion will ensue.
  • When it is impossible for anger to arise within you, you find no outside enemies anywhere. An outside enemy exists only if there is anger inside.
  • It is under the greatest adversity that there exists the greatest potential for doing good, both for oneself and others.
  • Since everything is but an apparition, having nothing to do with good or bad, acceptance or rejection, one may well burst out in laughter.
  • Whenever you hear that someone else has been successful, rejoice. Always practice rejoicing for others–whether your friend or your enemy. If you cannot practice rejoicing, no matter how long you live, you will not be happy.
  • Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.
  • None can live without toil and a craft that provides your needs is a blessing indeed. But if you toil without rest, fatigue and weariness will overtake you, and you will denied the joy that comes from labour’s end.

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“If we are not fully ourselves, truly in the present moment, we miss everything. When a child presents himself to you with his smile, if you are not really there – thinking about the future or the past, or preoccupied with other problems – then the child is not really there for you. The technique of being alive is to go back to yourself in order for the child to appear like a marvellous reality. Then you can see him smile and you can embrace him in your arms.”

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“If we are not empty, we become a block of matter.

We cannot breathe, we cannot think.

To be empty means to be alive, to breathe in and to breathe out.

We cannot be alive if we are not empty.

Emptiness is impermanence, it is change.

We should not complain about impermanence,

because without impermanence, nothing is possible.”

“At the moment of waking up,

before getting out of bed,

get in touch with your breath,

feel the various sensations in your body,

note any thoughts and feeling that maybe present,

let mindfulness touch this moment,

Can you feel your breath?

Can you perceive the dawning of each in breath?

Can you enjoy the feeling of the breath freely

entering your body in this moment?

“Breathe in I smile,

breathe out I calm my body,

dwelling in the present moment,

it is a wonderful moment.”

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“The fundamental philosophical principle of Buddhism is that all our suffering comes about as a result of an undisciplined mind, and this untamed mind itself comes about because of ignorance and negative emotions. For the Buddhist practitioner then, regardless of whether he or she follows the approach of the Fundamental Vehicle, Mahayana or Vajrayana, negative emotions are always the true enemy, a factor that has to be overcome and eliminated. And it is only by applying methods for training the mind that these negative emotions can be dispelled and eliminated. This is why in Buddhist writings and teachings we find such an extensive explanation of the mind and its different processes and functions. Since these negative emotions are states of mind, the method or technique for overcoming them must be developed from within. There is no alternative. They cannot be removed by some external technique, like a surgical operation.”

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“If we are not fully ourselves, truly in the present moment, we miss everything. When a child presents himself to you with his smile, if you are not really there – thinking about the future or the past, or preoccupied with other problems – then the child is not really there for you. The technique of being alive is to go back to yourself in order for the child to appear like a marvellous reality. Then you can see him smile and you can embrace him in your arms.”

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“We humans have existed in our present form for about a hundred thousand years. I believe that if during this time the human mind had been primarily controlled by anger and hatred, our overall population would have decreased. But today, despite all our wars, we find that the human population is greater than ever. This clearly indicates to me that love and compassion predominate in the world. And this is why unpleasant events are “news”; compassionate activities are so much a part of daily life that they are taken for granted and , therefore, largely ignored.”

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“We could become quite satisfied with ourselves because we are sitting in meditation and are endeavoring to practice the spiritual path. Such satisfaction with ourselves is not the same as contentment. Contentment is necessary, self-satisfaction is detrimental. To be content has to include knowing we are in the right place at the right time to facilitate our own growth. But to be self-satisfied means that we no longer realize the need for growth. All these aspects are important parts of our commitment and makes us into one whole being with a one-pointed direction.”

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“The universe that we inhabit and our shared perception of it are the results of a common karma. Likewise, the places that we will experience in future rebirths will be the outcome of the karma that we share with the other beings living there. The actions of each of us, human or nonhuman, have contributed to the world in which we live. We all have a common responsibility for our world and are connected with everything in it.”

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