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Show Some Respect

Entry 1988, on 2019-07-09 at 14:27:39 (Rating 3, Comments)

The manager walks into my office and abuses me about my failure to comply with the currently fashionable management structures which have been put into place. She cannot understand why I would not comply willingly with them, and demands to know whether I have respect for the system, and the people responsible for it, or not.

I say I cannot answer the question because it is not properly formed. I cannot give a simple yes or no answer regarding questions of respect because respect exists on a continuum from none at all at the bottom, to total at the top. It is unlikely - and maybe impossible - for anything to be at either extreme, so an evaluation of yes or no in regards to respect is not possible. A more reasonable question would be how much respect do I have, and how much should be expected.

By the way, the narrative above is purely theoretical, and doesn't correspond to a real event, but I'm sure this sort of event happens often.

Why would my respect for management structures, rules, regulations, laws, policies, and other systems not be absolute? Well, there are many reasons I could give - again this is from a purely theoretical perspective and shouldn't be construed as pertaining to any organisation, government, or company.

First, systems are invented by people and people never do things perfectly, no matter what other factors might be involved. They are always thwarted by their lack of experience, innate biases, ignorance of facts, political views, and other factors. So it's hard to give any system total respect when everyone does (or at least should) admit that it cannot be perfect because of who created it.

Second, different groups of people see the same problem in totally different ways and arrive at contradictory answers. This is most obvious when a government of one type is replaced with a different one. For example a left oriented government might have different economic policies to one more to the right. Clearly these answers are very much a matter of perspective, so it's hard to see why they would deserve the dedication and acceptance associated with total respect.

Third, the most accepted answer to a problem changes with time. Even the same person, group, or organisation might change their mind on the correct response based on what is currently seen as the best practice. Again, in politics, the same parties often swing from more neoliberal to socialist tendencies and back again. If what is seen as the best now can change so easily in the future it is hard to take the rules too seriously at any particular point of time.

Fourth, the people making decisions on what is the correct way to respond to a problem tend to be of a certain type. For example, in government there tend to be a lot of people from professions such as law, accounting, and business. While a case could be made to say that they might have the best skill set for the role, it would be equally easy to say that other skills, such as those associated with science and engineering, should also be valued. So it's hard to take rules seriously when the people making them might not belong to professions or backgrounds you hold in high regard.

Finally, people tend to be self-serving. They might say they are working for the good of the people or the country or organisation they are responsible for, but there is almost always a certain element of self-aggrandisement there too. So when a decision is partly based on furthering a person's power or increasing their income, it's difficult to give that total respect.

Note that in all the criticisms above I'm not trying to suggest that the whole world is hopelessly corrupt, incompetent, or short-sighted, although that often seems to be the case when I am in a more negative or cynical mood! What I am trying to convey is that there are always compromises, errors, and judgements based on opinion rather than fact. So, given that the decision-making mechanism are so flawed, why would we give the results of that process total respect? And the same applies to the people involved in the process: they also deserve varying degrees of respect which are less than total.

So when that manager demands a response to the "respect question", I should say something like: I have about 60% respect for the system, and about 50% respect for the people who created it. As a point of comparison I have about 50% respect for our current prime minister, about 90% respect for my most respected figures from history (say Einstein or Feynman) and about 10% respect for the greatest villains in history (Hitler, Stalin, etc).

I could tell her that I have total respect instead, but how respectful am I being by deliberately lying? In some ways, the more respect I profess to have, the less I really have!

And this is how that evaluation would affect my behaviour. Because I have some respect for the rules, and because from a pragmatic viewpoint it's usually easier to follow them rather than risk conflict, I use them as a guideline for what I should do. But I don't have total respect for them, so I will not follow them when I think they are wrong and if I can get away with it, or where it is worth the nuisance value of the conflict which might arise from my failure to comply.

But even if I follow a rule because I was forced to what has really been achieved? I have been made to follow a rule I only have 60% respect for by people I only have 50% respect for. Is that likely to increase or decrease my respect? I think the answer to that is quite clear.

So sure, I will "show some respect", but how much will be determined by how much is deserved. But don't ask me to say I will give you total respect, because by saying that I am, by definition, giving you less than you demand!

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