Respect and Work(lessness)



'Respect' can etymologically be traced back to the Latin 'respicere', which can be translated with 'looking after'. Someone who is respected is looked after. 'Work' is thought to stem from the Indo-European 'werg', which is given the meanings of 'acting' or 'doing'. In contemporary English the word 'work' [in Dutch 'werk'] has also, if not mainly, reference to the conducting of income related labour.

Now where respect and work are concerned two sayings are in the contemporary Anglo-Saxon world [as in the contemporary Netherlands] representative for the general attitude with regards to the two first mentioned. The first saying takes respect as point of departure and reads; 'respect you must earn'. With other words the idea holds sway that respect is something for which you must work. The second saying takes work as point of departure and reads; 'who doesn't work shall not eat'. With other words the idea holds sway that only to those who work has to be looked after, that only who works deserves respect. Summarized; 'work deserves respect and respect is something you have to work for', thus is the general thought.

This thought we recognize in the attitude which is taken with regards to working and non-working people. Working people are by politicians, the media and by the people sketched as true heroes. They roll up their sleeves, put hands on, are busy, busy, busy, occupied bees, and are with that the heroic saviours of the economy. It is clear that society orients towards the respecting of working people.

This stands in sharp contrast with the manner in which non-working people are sketched. For these are depicted as parasites, lazybones and anti-socials who hang the whole day on their couch in front of the television with a bottle of beer. Respect for this group is far to find, for they are also considered to not deserve it.

This attitude of respectlessness against non-working people stands or falls however with the handled definition of 'work' and with the normative ideas that respect must be earned and that who doesn't work should not eat.

When 'work' for instance would not be defined so dominantly in the meaning of income related labour but in the meaning of acting or doing, then also many non-working people could be treated in a respectful manner. For the most non-working are, against contemporary stigmatisations, often busy with things. Sometimes they are volunteering, sometimes caretaking, and many are active in their field of interest.

More primary the present respectlessness towards non-working people is breached when the norms are let go that respect must be earned and that who doesn't work should not eat. The letting go of these dominant norms is however not only important for non-working people. When it becomes the norm that respect is a human right, something to which a human is entitled purely on base of his being human, then no human has to lack respect. Then it is possible to look after everybody with respect, to everybody, and not only to those who conduct income related labour.

The choice is with us whether we stay on the path of exclusive respect expression or whether we turn to the path of inclusive respect expression.