A few hours ago, I made an observation on social media that was intended to be humorous, so I was genuinely taken aback to read a dour rebuke to the effect that I had lost the respect of one of my friends as a result of what I’d posted. A number of replies instantly sprang to mind, among them Cicero’s famous words, but I decided not to respond because it’s inevitable that the tone of text in our internet age is frequently misunderstood and so there was no point in running the risk of engaging in an unseemly public slanging match.
All the same, I found myself pondering the nature of respect, something I don’t think I’d given a great deal of thought to other than when I’d been watching the Godfather films or else reading of some real life gang member in Britain attempting to justify his murderous actions.
To begin with, it’s surely inevitable that I’m going to be unaware if others have respect for me unless they write to me or otherwise tell me as much; to illustrate this point, the man in the photograph at the top of this post has my utmost respect and admiration, as well as the respect and admiration of many others around the world, but sadly, he will never be aware of this. Otherwise, I might well infer from the way that others treat me that I’m held in respect for some reason, but it seems to me to be likely that those people will have other thoughts as well, which are not necessarily complimentary because one can certainly respect a person or a thing without necessarily liking them.
For example, I might well respect a law or the personification of the law in the form of a policeman or a judge, but that’s no guarantee that I’ll like them, while the same principle would apply to politicians and individuals in other professions, as well as to guard dogs, floods and so forth; or, as Accius once wrote “Oderint dum metuant.”
So, given that respect does not automatically bring with it affection and given that it’s possible for friendship to exist even if its greatest ornament has been removed, what value does respect hold for me personally, regardless of who chooses to bestow this quality on our association? I can’t eat it or drink it, nor can I spend it or wear it – with the best will in the world, respect doesn’t warm my home, nor does it act as any form of balm for my current illness. Without being cynical or ungrateful, it is a worthless commodity to me, as I’m unaware when I possess it, so I don’t seek it out or mourn its passing.
I march to a different drumbeat – I always have done and I always will. This course of action has admittedly resulted in disasters without number over the decades, but it’s also provided me with rewards in the form of memories that make my soul exult when I recall them, while I can’t remember anything I’ve ever said or done being calculated to win the affection, admiration or respect of others because vanity could never be a consideration when I was embarking on any given course.
As I recorded in A Tale of Sound & Fury, I was enormously impressed as a teenager when I read of the Earl of Sandwich, a staunch member of the Hell Fire Club and someone who was notable for simply not caring what others thought of him. To some, this might seem a callous attitude, but I can only say that I for one would expect all others to behave as their conscience and nature dictate without worrying if their thoughts or deeds will automatically earn the approbation of their fellows, myself included – after all, we’re not politicians.
“It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.”