Years ago (almost 50 to be exact), the Queen of Soul released a hit song. Her name, as you probably already know, is Aretha Franklin. The song is Respect. It put her on the map, and she never looked back.
Apart from the fact that it was a good song, I think it resonated with people. Everyone is looking for respect. For Heavens sake, even the Cowardly Lion wanted chipmunks to genuflect to him. We all want to be viewed with some degree of deference.
“The woman walks over him…”
The interesting thing about “Respect” is its origin. It was written, recorded, and released by none other than Otis Redding (no slouch himself). His version hit the stand in 1965. It didn’t make that much of a splash, however. I suspect part of the reason for that was the tenor of his performance.
The original rendition done by Redding came across as a fraught man imploring his lady friend to respect him. In it, the guy doesn’t seem to mind if the woman walks all over him, just as long as she respects him. Sounds like a bit of a contradiction in terms, but it’s his song after all.
As you know, Aretha’s version portrays an ardent, self-assured woman demanding the respect she deserves. She knows what she wants, and she knows it’s due her. No wonder people (especially the women) back in ’67 were picking up what she was laying down.
In the chorus, Franklin sang these words: “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me.” To me, these words are the crux of the lyrics. Find out what respect means to me. I don’t want what you’re calling respect. Find out what I view as respect and give it to me.
Therein lies some of our problem today. We often give only what we want to give—and then, begrudgingly. To her credit, she lays it out for her man in the song. Here’s what I’m looking for. Give me the kind of respect I’m worthy of receiving.
Unfortunately, many of us don’t have the opportunity to lay it all on the line like that. We just hope those around us will see us for who we are—people who deserve to be esteemed in some small way.
Jesus laid out a simple formula for doing that in what we call the Golden Rule. (Matthew 7:12) Showing respect is simply treating others the way we would like to be treated. We have lost a great deal of that these days.
In our culture it’s almost become a sport to show disrespect to someone. It happens so often, we’ve even coined a phrase to describe it—“You dissed me!” I never even heard that word until a few years ago. Now it’s commonplace. I guess social media has made it a bit too easy to do that and get away with it.
Aretha’s song went straight to number one when it came out. Maybe we need a little revival of it fifty years later.
[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]