March 27, 2019

What do you mean by RESPECT ? by Esame Okwoche

What do you mean by RESPECT ? by Esame Okwoche

“Don’t ever take a fence down until you know the reason why it was put up” – Ascribed to Chesterton by J F Kennedy

 I know a girl who loved to fight. She was thrown out of school when she was 13, she fought her mother when she was 14 and moved out of the house and into a half-way house by the time she was 15. In the half-way house Tomisole fought with her housemates every other day. Every other day the police van would park in front of Tomisole’s halfway house and a police officer would tower over her trying to make her see reason. But reason was a difficult concept for Tomi. All Tomi wanted was RESPECT, she said. When I asked Tomisole what respect meant to her, she said ‘When anybody looks at me funny yeah, like if anyone chat shit about me yeah, yeah…, like if you mess about with me, yeah???

respect (1)

I told Tomisole that back home respect means listening to your elders even if you think they are wrong. And please don’t give me the existentialist lecture or any other lecture on the ethics of being a free agent, or whatever. No 1. You will be telling the wrong person, the only difference between a young me and Tomisole was that I didn’t have the strength or stamina to fight. I was a rebellious child, and made it a point to reject and question whatever my parents said.

Which brings me to point No 2: There is nothing archaic, or outdated about respecting your parents. In hindsight now, after two kids, I swear I wish I listened. But I sense here that I must include a caveat, because fortunately or unfortunately, we live in the age of the internet, the age of the global audience. The ever fabulous Maria Popova defines this audience as ‘exponentially more able and willing to make its presence and opinion known via likes, tweets, and other innocuously named, spiritually toxic Pavlovian mechanisms’.

Yes. We live in the age where no matter what you say someone will extrapolate an extremity or a grievance, even if they very well understand what you mean. So in order to make clarity doubly clear, if a parent asks a child to, for example, kill someone, the child should say no. But then again this may not be an extremity, living as it is in a morally decaying world, a world where boundaries are continuously being redefined, a relativist world, with no regard for logical out-workings.

So, what I am saying is that our parents have lived longer and more often than not, they know better. My mother used to say: what a child cannot see standing up, a parent will see sitting down, (I snorted at it until I became a parent myself). Well, Tomisole never saw anything even hanging from a pole. The last I heard of her she was dragged through the gravel of her half-way house, and beaten to an inch of her life. I heard something happened to her brain and her spine and she has lost the use of her legs and some of her senses.

Unfortunately, Tomisole’s earlier incoherence at defining RESPECT, despite her clear obsession with the word, is a sickness some young people in London are afflicted with, my particular interest being young people of Nigerian parentage.

But where did this obsession with respect come from? The word came into greater prominence through a UEFA initiative called Respect Campaign. The idea itself is all encompassing, embracing everything from discrimination to racism and violence to other social elements. Since the launch of the Respect Campaign, the word has become fiercely popular amongst young people. Many young people see Respect as the core of what they stand for, how they are defined, how they wish to be treated, and rightfully so.


The problem is not respect in itself. With football for example, you only need to see the diversity of supporters in order to appreciate what a global sport this has become. And with the presence of multi ethnicity and cultures come the need for respect. The problem with Tomisole’s quest for respect is the ‘how?’ the vehicle through which she hoped to achieve this respect. She forgot the saying which insists that ‘Respect is earned’.

What then am I saying? What then is the moral of this article?


I mean moral lesson, that old, outdated saying that we civilised educated secularists don’t care about.

The moral is: “Don’t ever take a fence down until you know the reason why it was put up”

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