Respect (an Aretha update)

Amanda Jackson

Aretha Franklin’s hit song Respect, is a 3 minute plea to her man to show her a little respect, 'or you might walk in and find out I’m gone.’ The song was written over 50 years ago and fits into that genre of soul music lamenting how the man (it’s generally a man) has done wrong.

Today’s deep and persistent lack of respect and decency in our public life as well as in personal relationships make the words mighty relevant. 

Scandal and moral failing are as old as history, but it is dispiriting that each new instance lately is met with either weary acceptance or pointless rage.

The perpetrator has no r-e-s-p-e-c-t (Aretha's song spells out the word) for the public, just regret that they got found out. And they certainly have no regard for truth or virtue.

Some recent examples:

Matt Hancock is an MP in the UK. He was Health Minister during Covid and gave very profitable PPI equipment contracts to friends. He had an affair with his assistant - thus breaking social distancing rules during Covid! Adding to his portfolio of moral failings or as he might call them, slips in judgement, he became a contestant on I’m a Celebrity, Get Me out of Here whilst he was meant to be doing his job as an MP.

His reputation for unethical selfishness sank even lower a couple of weeks ago.

Hancock, now a humble backbencher after those past abuses of power, blithely told a journalist posing as a representative of an oversea firm, that he would charge £10,000 a day to give ‘advice’.

Apparently this is not illegal, but shows that Hancock has no r-e-s-p-e-c-t for his constituents or his party.

It is somewhat heartening that the government is now moving to ban such consultation payments by MPs and that Hancock has decided not to stand as an MP in the next election. But in the meantime he still collects his salary and as an insult to tax-payers, says he wants to seek “new ways to communicate” with the public. There has not been a word of contrition.

The lack of r-e-s-p-e-c-t for the idea of dedicated service in public officials is seen with terrible clarity in the sexist behaviour of some policemen.

All constables vow to uphold the law before a magistrate. They say, they will discharge their duties … “with fairness, integrity, diligence and impartiality,” and that they will uphold fundamental human rights and show equal respect to all people.

What has happened to those words – integrity, impartiality and r-e-s-p-e-c-t?

Since the kidnapping, rape and killing of Sarah Everard by an off-duty police officer in 2021, 16 police officers in London have been convicted of crimes – the vast majority for rape or other sexual crimes. Shockingly, 80% of Met officers who have been accused of domestic abuse or sexual misconduct are still in the force - I acknowledge that these are accusations not convictions but given that only 2% of accusations are investigated properly, it is no wonder that women say they cannot trust police in general, or individual officers.

There can be no r-e-s-p-e-c-t from the public if there has been a break-down of truth and virtue.

I would call integrity, honesty and respect, ‘Christian’ virtues because they are rooted in a unique perspective of right living based in the value of all human beings who are created in the image of God. Many people of no faith would also subscribe to these ideals, without perhaps recognising how much our society is shaped by Christian ideals. 

We need to have standards of moral and ethical behaviour that hold people to account whether they are politicians or policemen or any public ‘servant’ (what an ironic word that is). 

We should demand those qualities not because we are sanctimonious or judgemental but because society is held together by trust and respect for all people.

What can we do? What we must not do is sink into cynicism or call for a strong leader to impose law and order. We have to keep believing that we can restore right living if we look to God’s values.

This month,

Why don’t you write to your representative in parliament (you can find out how to do this easily online), encouraging them to stand up for integrity, honesty and respect in areas like housing, healthcare, policing, refugees or taxes? And thank them if they do.

In the UK, you can use to send a personal message to your MP.