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I remember a substitute teacher we had in a 9th grade class. She told us to open up the heavy books kept in the wire basket attached to the side of each desk and to read a dull chapter. Then she left and said she’d be right back. Who was she kidding?

Aside from the naivety of leaving us unattended, my young heart burned with the injustice of the situation. That was not teaching! First I convinced all the class to begin to pass their books and stack them on the desk at the front of each aisle. Then we passed all the books from those baskets and added them to the piles; each pile began to resemble a teetering tower in Pisa.

With time still left, and the substitute still AWOL, I looked about for something more statement making. The trash can stood right beside her desk. One quick move and the contents were heaped on top of the desk where she should have been.

Just then the door opened. The teacher-impersonator froze with only two steps into the room. Everyone became suddenly docile and busy. I slowly sat the can down and began to transfer the trash back inside. 

I’d like to claim I learned about respect that day, but simply, nobody took the time to teach me.

What I didn’t understand then was the principles behind respect: compassion, brotherly kindness, empathy, deference for those older than us, love and so forth.

I think that teaching respect is often about situations.

While at a park for a picnic, or on a hiking trail, have children look about and choose one beautiful thing God has created that they particularly enjoy. Discuss what it would be like if nobody put their trash in the waste-basket. Teach them then how not littering is a sign of respect for our world.

Yesterday in church we were reminded that our building did not have a professional custodial crew (families take turns cleaning the building on Saturdays). We were asked that anytime we were in the building, to look around and try to leave it better than we found it. Children could be reminded that this is where we worship our Heavenly Father and that taking care of the building, and the chairs, is a way to show respect for Him.

I remember as a youth, many young women called a leader by her first name, “Hazel.” My parents firmly explained to my sisters and I that we would show respect to her by addressing her by her last name. It was not presented as an option. I learned about respecting my elders from that.

Manners are often founded on principles of respect. Why do men open doors for women? Why were the women and children placed into lifeboats first when the Titanic sunk? Why do men offer women a seat in a crowded room? I believe it has to do with something beyond the old fashioned belief of the “weaker sex.” I believe it is respect for the ones who give birth to the future. Children represent the hope that someday their lives will not need to be lived in war, poverty, bigotry, or famine. They represent the hope of a brighter tomorrow. And women are honored as the ones who bring that hope into the world. Also, when a woman is caring for a child, she is vulnerable, so men instinctively want to protect her. Teaching boys to respect women brings out the best in their natural desires.

Likewise, teach your girls to respect themselves and their bodies.

How do you teach respect for different cultures and races? By simply making many friends with, or conducting business with, people that are different than you. Your children will see your example and understand that the external differences don’t matter.

Our world crumbles when we stop respecting each other and our surroundings. Slums, violence, war, and hatred spread. Rudyard Kipling wrote:

Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,

Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat;

But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,

When two strong men stand face to face, tho’ they come from the ends of the earth!

Teach your children to be strong—teach them to respect.

How have you taught respect?