What’s the difference between respect and authority?
For purposes of simplicity, authority is the power to give orders, make decisions and enforce obedience, while respect is a regard for the feelings, wishes and rights of others – also known as common human decency.
People will often confuse and conflate the two; demanding ‘respect’ when what they really want is for you to do exactly what they want. Let’s be clear – they’re not interchangeable. One is literally the baseline for human interaction, while the other is often borne out of a well-honed sense of entitlement – that comes from age, gender, wealth, family, etc.
I acknowledge that this is all coming across as very abstract, so buckle up ladies and gents, it’s story time. We call this story Catfight in Nadi El Gezira’s Dog Park.
A friend was walking his dog (called Ginger, if anybody’s interested) in Nadi El Gezira when he came across a young woman unknowingly walking her dog across the golf course. The golfers using the course at the time decided to rectify the situation. All of them older, charged –shouting – across the course towards the young woman. An older woman, maybe in her 50s, was very obviously in charge and very angry. Unsurprisingly, the young woman was shocked and confused.
An altercation ensued between the young woman and the old woman, with the old woman shouting generationally-popular phrases like, “Ana ad omek! Ezay terody 3alaya keda?” and “Enty magnoona!”
To her credit, the young woman stood her ground and like any human being with an ounce of self-respect and pride, gave as good as she got. In the blink of an eye, the altercation turned physical. The rest of the golfers intervened and attempted to pull the women away from each other. The yelling continued and evolved (or devolved?) into cursing. The old woman screamed that the young woman was ‘a whore’, while trying to get past the golfers to, presumably, hit the young woman again. The woman hurled the obscenity right back at the old woman who got even more angry.
The young woman, while obviously overwhelmed, did not take being verbally abused in stride and was doing her best to also break through the human barricade of golfers. The old woman managed to break through twice, and attacked the young woman both times.
What was the old woman’s biggest qualm? How did what could have been a simple error/rectification turn into public fisticuffs? Simply put, the old woman could not accept the fact that this young woman, this ‘whore’, could talk back to her and put her in her place for her rudeness – publicly. How dare this young woman not ‘respect’ her? As she was attempting, again, to assault her, the enraged old woman was screaming, “Lazem arabeeha! Dee mesh 3arfa ana meen!”
The fight was broken up and tensions were somewhat diffused. The old woman took her entourage and her foe to the club’s authorities, all the while threatening to have her banned from the club.
My colleague, ever the responsible citizen, followed to testify on the young woman’s behalf. Ultimately, the old woman had more pull in the club and the young woman got suspended. The end.
I’ll be damned if we don’t all have similar stories; individuals who assume that, because of who they are, they deserve deference, authority and to get away with things; individuals who get angry when they don’t get the right amount of ‘respect’, the “don’t you know who I am?” approach. How many people do we know who have verbally abused those in their employment – maids, drivers, private tutors and the like? Why can some, more wealthy, or ‘higher-class’ people abuse police and get away with it? Why do we hear stories of security forces torturing, harassing and bullying micro bus drivers? Why is domestic abuse so prevalent? Why are refugee communities so likely to get harassed? Why does the bawab refer to the building owner’s child as ‘ya ostaz’?
Ours is a community based on haves and have-nots. It is based on an unequal distribution of social capital, wealth and influence. It is a place where the only way people are treated like human beings is if society deems then worthy of basic human kindness.
What a lot of these people want isn’t respect – they’re not looking for due regard for their feelings and wishes – they’re looking to elevate their status and assert their power at the expense of others. It is a symptom of ageism, sexism, classism, homophobia racism, and all the other flavours of discrimination.
Either explicitly or implicitly, some individuals think they are more important than others and, unfortunately, society, institutions and families reinforce this idea. We are a country united under the motto of ‘just because I said so’ – your agency and personhood be damned. These people don’t want kindness or acknowledgment, they want obedience, subservience and deference.
Egypt is a hierarchy; the old get more respect than the young, the wealthy get more than the poor, employers get more than employees, men get more than women, heterosexuals more than homosexuals, and institutions get more than individuals. Respect as a descriptor is used here deliberately, because our social dynamics are steeped in oppression and dominance and in treating some people like they, as living, breathing human beings, are worth less than other human beings because of the position they occupy in the social hierarchy – “I am powerful because you are powerless.”
On the basis of ‘who they are’, some people just want authority.
By Noor Salama