There is often a great tension between the privileges of rank and the obligations of rank. Some of us (myself included) are greatly motivated by questions of honor and respect and rather sensitive to slights and offenses in this regard. Most people who consider themselves to be elites and aristocrats think of themselves as above critique and accountability to the common herd. And, truth be told, I am nothing if not a commoner. All of my education and culture cannot hide my passionate support of the well-being of ordinary people who lack connections or extensive family pedigree, nor can it hide my basic mistrust of those who claim to be above accountability to standards of justice and virtue. Higher titles do not make someone immune from criticism and accountability from ordinary people, but rather they make someone accountable to more people for their activities.
People do not often think about accountability when they seek power and position. Some people look for power because they think that a title makes them somebody, clothing them with respect and dignity and honor that they may not have based on their own character. Some people look for power because they want to do something, and that power is a means to an end for themselves and for those who support their search for power. Sometimes people serve the interests of others, sometimes they serve their own self-interest, and sometimes they serve the interests of themselves and the general public at the same time (it is this last group of solutions that I find the most appealing for myself personally). It is easy to speak the rhetoric of service, but difficult to serve, especially given the ferocity of criticism one is going to find (and this is coming from a reasonably critical person–but hardly an excessively critical person).
I’m not exactly sure where I get it from, but I often tend to refer to women as ladies and men as gentlemen when I am talking about them to others. I tend to think of people as worthy of respect until and unless they prove themselves otherwise. I try to be a fair and just judge of the character of others–it is easier to be kind when one understand motives and worldview. I would hope that it would not be too hard for people to think of me as a gentleman either. After all, status is not particularly useful if it is not recognized by others, nor is it useful for others to give respect and eschew criticism unless your status serves their goals and interests. This requires that we think beyond ourselves and think of others as well. What is our contribution to others–the better our own contribution, the easier it is for others to respect us and reward us.
I would be curious to hear from others about their own expectations of respect and honor. Who is it that we tend to expect to honor and respect us the most? Who disappoints us the most when they fail to respect us as we think we deserve? Who tends to respect us the most? These are questions that I find to be deeply interesting. It is far easier to respect those who are polite and proper, and who respect us. It is likewise difficult for us to respect those who either view us with contempt or who we feel are judging us. But often what we feel is not particularly relevant to the duties we have–sometimes we just have to respect others, cut them some slack, and understand that most people live under a fair amount of pressure and adjust our tolerance accordingly. That is, though, far easier said than done.