Respect Is Not Earned

happy female hardware store cashier with arms folded

Does this woman need to earn your respect before you give it to her? I hope not.

Respect is earned.

How do you feel when you hear that statement? Are you in total agreement with it? Or do you think that it is complete insanity?

Before you answer, let’s begin with a simple experiment.

Take a moment to look at the two groups of professionals listed below:

Group A: Physician, attorney, accountant, university professor, pilot, engineer, scientist, and CEO.

Group B: Waiter, flight attendant, nurse, customer service representative, coffee barista, retail employee, valet, bank teller, cashier, bell hop, grocery store bagger/cashier, receptionist, and hotel maid.

Keep it real with me.

Which group deserves more of your respect and admiration? Don’t struggle with this question–it should be a fairly easy one to answer.

Made your choice?


Before I tell you my answer, allow me to share with you what an acquaintance of mine said when I asked her the same question:

Group A, obviously.

According to her, they are the ones who are highly credentialed, well-educated, and well-compensated for their highly specialized skills. These are the thought leaders who are making the world a better place for all of us.

She wasn’t done.

I’m paraphrasing of course, but this was her less-than-enlightened take on the service professionals in Group B:

“They’re dime-a-dozen losers who should be embarrassed by the lack of value that they offer to society. They do not deserve our respect, they deserve our pity. Instead of asking for respect, they need to get into a classroom and get a damn degree so that they can do something meaningful with their sorry lives instead of flipping burgers or bagging my groceries. Respect is earned.”

The funny thing was that after she said that to me, she paused and smiled proudly as if she was waiting for me to give her a high-five or a hug or something. I honestly think that she believed that she said something profound.

It was profound. Profoundly stupid.

I’ll admit that I’m overly sensitive about this topic.

I have spent many years as a service professional, I have many close friends who are service professionals, and now I’m entrusted to oversee a department for a Top 3 U.S. Hospital System whose responsibility is to train thousands of service professionals each year on customer service.

My love and respect for service professionals runs very deep.

And based on what I’ve been hearing from my friends out in the field, my acquaintance’s attitude about the service professionals in Group B is not all that uncommon.

I believe that the lack of respect, kindness, and positivity toward service professionals might be a sign of an even bigger problem.

Is there a “respect crisis” in our society toward service professionals?

Do people really need to earn our respect before we choose to give it to them?

Let’s see.

Everyone Starts Off With an A+

Listening to my acquaintance’s twisted rant made me reflect on something that I previously never gave a second thought before our conversation a few months ago.

If a person treats me nicely, but has a habit of intentionally treating service professionals with disrespect (or anyone, really), does that make him/her someone that’s worth hanging out with?

That’s an easy question for me to answer now.


I’ve always believed that you can tell a lot about a person based on how they treat service professionals, and my acquaintance proved my theory is still working flawlessly.

Hopefully we all agree on this simple idea: Basic respect for other human beings isn’t something that needs to be earned.

I mean seriously, doesn’t that sound bizarre? I completely understand if people feel that trust needs to be earned, but earning respect?

That’s just crazy talk.

Basic human respect should be a given.

Please don’t get me wrong though, there’s nothing wrong with losing respect for people, but everyone should start off with basic human respect without having to earn it from us first.

It’s like one of my college professors used to say: “everyone in the class starts off with an A+, but it was up to us (the students) to keep it that way.”

I believe that same idea should apply to respect.

Withholding Positivity

Last week, I talked about how stress can make us treat our loved ones poorly, but now I want to focus on the people who intentionally choose to be rude to other people.

Sadly, there are quite a few people who thoroughly enjoy acting in a disrespectful manner and making themselves feel superior at the expense of others.

It’s sickening and it has to stop.

As far as I’ve mentioned before, and I’ll happily keep mentioning until I’m blue in the face (which would be pretty tough for me, for obvious reasons), but there is no excuse for rudeness and disrespect.

None whatsoever.

Rudeness is often a by-product of a lack of respect. Not to sound like Captain Obvious here, but most people don’t choose to be rude and disrespectful to people who they respect, do they?

Take my acquaintance, for instance.

For whatever misguided reason, she doesn’t respect service professionals. Even worse, she will not offer service professionals any kindness, dignity, or respect until they somehow earn the right to receive those things from her.

Do you think that she feels the same way about her physician? One of her grad school professors? Her boss?


Without actually coming out and saying it, my acquaintance basically told me that she consciously makes a choice to give kindness and respect to some people and withhold it from other people.

And she bases her decision solely on what those people choose to do for a living.

This makes absolutely no sense to me.

I hope that you feel the same way too.

Grocery Store Bagger Swagger

I feel safe in saying that my acquaintance is not making the world a more positive place.

She definitely isn’t making it a positive place for the men and women who find themselves as members of Group B, that’s for sure.

The irony in all of this is that I believe that it is the men and women in Group B who are using their expertise to truly make the world a positive place for all of us.

And they’re doing it as much–if not more so–than the people in Group A.

Don’t believe that their jobs require expertise?

Let’s use an example that most people take for granted: a grocery store bagger.

Next time you head to the grocery store, please realize that the person who is bagging your groceries is doing a hell of a lot more than mindlessly stuffing your groceries into a paper or plastic bag. Most likely, she is…

  • Examining you and making an educated guess about how much you can carry in and out of your cart and into your vehicle–that will likely determine how heavy or light to make the bags.
  • Analyzing the type of products that should be bagged together as they’re flying down the conveyor belt at her. Bug repellent probably shouldn’t be placed in the same bag with your lettuce. Frozen foods should all go in the same bags. Raw chicken probably shouldn’t be in the same bag with little Jimmy’s fruit snacks, etc.
  • Strategically loading your bag so that the bags do not rip or that any of the food ends up damaged. Putting your 12-pack of Dr. Pepper on top of your bag of tomatoes probably wouldn’t be a great idea.
  • Doing all of this quickly to ensure that you don’t have to wait longer than 1-2 minutes after you have paid for all of your groceries.
  • Well-versed in where every item in the store is located and in which aisle, so that she’s prepared when you inevitably forget to pick up something, and you need to know quickly where to find it.
  • Tired, has sore feet, is underpaid, but is still managing to keep a smile on her face and keep her faith in humanity even though many of the people that she encounters each day have little respect for her or what she does for her customers everyday.

If Merriam-Webster defines an expert as someone, “Having, involving, or displaying special skill or knowledge from training or experience,” then there is zero doubt that this woman is an expert.

If you still doubt that this woman’s work requires expertise, then I challenge anyone reading this to find a busy grocery store and try bagging groceries for an hour. Just an hour. Trust me, you’ll change your mind after 10 minutes–if you even make it that long.

I am convinced that a large part of the problem (besides a lack of basic human empathy) is that most non-service people have no clue how challenging it is to perform a service job every single day.

Grocery store baggers and service professionals all over the world, it’s time to embrace your swagger.

You’ve earned it.

The New Reality of Respect

Without the grocery store bagger’s expertise and her commitment to making the world a more positive place through her service, the CEO in Group A cannot exist.

Continuing with the grocery store scenario, the CEO sits comfortably in her office because of the exceptional men and women who work on the front line bagging the customers’ groceries correctly and efficiently, understanding the ins-and-outs of her store, and doing everything they can to get the customers to happily return to her store in the future to buy her company’s groceries.

Simply put, the service professionals in Group B make the people in Group A possible. At the very least, without Group B, there is no chance that the people in Group A would be nearly as effective.


So, let’s revisit my original question:

Who deserves more of your admiration and respect–the people in Group A or Group B?

The answer is still obvious.

Group B, right?


They both deserve respect.

Everyone deserves to be treated with respect. 

There are no varying degrees of respect. Group A or B hasn’t earned more respect than the other group. Unless you have some serious issues, like my acquaintance.

The only way to end the “respect crisis” is with our unwavering willingness to share positivity, kindness, and respect with everyone who we encounter–especially for our service professionals who don’t hear a sincere “thank you” nearly as much as they should.

Most importantly, for all of the service professionals reading this, please know that my goal is to create a world where you’ll never feel the need to fight for anyone’s respect just because you’re in a service role.

Speaking for me, and the millions of other people who deeply appreciate you and your hard work, please know that respect isn’t something that you’ll ever need to earn from us.

It takes a very special person to dedicate their careers to serving others.

That’s why all of you, without exception, have had our respect and admiration all along.

Your Turn

Is respect something that is earned? Do service professionals receive enough respect and appreciation for what they do? Either way, jump into the comments below and make your voice heard!



Founder of The Positivity Solution
Author, keynote speaker, and kindness extremist who is committed to changing the world by helping as many people as possible to live and work with more positivity.

Latest posts by Shola (see all)


  1. Shola,

    I think that if employers give kind, consistent training and feedback to grocery baggers, and pay them a living wage, they WILL all be able to approach the job like you say.

    Mark (*bagged groceries for 2 years in high school.)

    • I hear you, Mark–I’m a former grocery store bagger too. My concern is with the people (employers or customers) who choose to withhold respect to grocery store baggers, for any reason. I believe that fixing that one simple issue could have an enormous positive impact.

  2. Everyone deserves the same amount of respect. I strongly feel this way and always have. I treat our janitor no differently than I treat or CEO or CFO. Unfortunately in the company I work for this seems to have worked against me. We have employees who talk down to everyone they feel is “beneath” them and kiss up to everyone they feel is “above” them. I find it absolutely pathetic but it is all the “kiss asses” that seem to get ahead around here. I bothers me so much that I am looking for other employment at the moment. I am currently right in the middle of the pay scale in my company. The president of our company started out delivering parts for our company many years ago and preaches about treating everyone with respect but does not practice what he preaches.

    • Kerri, I am SO with you on this. One of the main reasons why I wrote my book (ahem…hitting bookstores in September!) is to direct bring more attention to the issue you brought up in your comment. It deeply saddens me that there are so many leaders who proudly say in town hall meetings that their people are their “#1 priority,” but their actions don’t come even close to supporting that fact. Even worse to me, are the toxic company cultures that reward ass kissing and/or treating people with less respect, due solely to their position within the company. As you have proven in your comment, it is the quickest way to disengage high-quality employees, and very few (if any) of those employees will stick around in that type of environment for long. A work culture that does not value respect is not only unsustainable, but in my opinion, it’s also doomed to fail.

  3. I LOVE this post.

    I’ve often thought the same thing about grocery baggers!

    I think the way you treat others says more about what you deserve than what they deserve. I remember a homily our parish priest gave when i was a teenager on tipping your waiter and treating them with kindness. He made the same point you do: you can tell a lot about a person by the way they treat service professionals.

    I just read a great book that addresses this theme: “The Wanderer” by Frances Burney (it’s on Project Gutenberg for free!).
    I agree that everyone starts with an A+ by merit of simply being a human being. In my view, forfeiting that A+ takes willful misconduct, not just mistakes, so if your bagger breaks your eggs, be understanding and kind!

    I agree we are in a crisis of lack of respect. We live in a “me first” world where people are out for their own convenience and what they can get. Interestingly, William Wilberforce, who led the anti-slavery movement in Britian, had another pet topic: manners. He saw slavery as connected to the lack of manners, that is, manners being the recognition of the humanity of another person.

    • Teresa, I love your comment more than you love my post! 😉

      I completely agree that only willful misconduct would make me lose respect for another person–especially consistent willful misconduct. I am super sensitive to poor treatment of service professionals, that’s why willful misconduct toward them really upsets me. I actually walked out of a business lunch with a group of people when one of the people in our group (I didn’t know her) was horribly rude to the waiter. I agree–there is a respect crisis, but I’m also convinced that we can fix it. And as you said so brilliantly, it starts with the consistent recognition of the humanity of another person.

  4. Hello again Shola, and thank you for bringing this up. I have always felt it proper to treat all others with respect, unless, as you say, they engage in willful misconduct. There is also an old nugget of wisdom for those in the dating scene, looking for The One: observe how they treat service people, like wait staff, when on dates. They may be nice to you now, but the way they treat staff is the way they will treat YOU, once they take you for granted. I found that to be so true! As for your acquaintance, I’ve known many like her. People like her are rarely happy people. Happy people run around hugging everyone. Those who run around spitting on everyone are coming from bitterness, depression, envy, emptiness, pain; any number of negative & destructive emotions that control their psyches. So, as obnoxious as she sounds, people like her deserve respect & consideration also, and even an extra dose of positive energy.

    • Again Donna, you are spot-on. I think the “how a person treats the wait staff test” is one of the best ways to see what’s truly in a person’s heart–it honestly hasn’t failed me yet. And I couldn’t agree more with you–how they treat the wait staff is exactly how they’ll likely treat you, so if you don’t like what you’re seeing…RUN!

      Like you said, happy and well-adjusted people don’t go around abusing people, only the broken people do that–hurt people, hurt people, right? My job is to offer those people compassion (as you smartly noted), and arguably, even more important, I offer compassion to the service professionals who were on the wrong end of the abuse. If I can reinforce their shaken faith in the goodness of humanity (even if it’s just for a moment), then I feel like I’ve actively made a positive difference.

  5. In general I agree that everyone deserves respect. I will qualify this however and say that it is only certain individuals that I develop a deep admiration for and it can never really be earned. I am not such a lofty person (in career or anything else) to assume I have points to dole out. My admiration is based on that individual’s behavior and action. There are a lot of nurses, cashiers (and grocery store staff), bus drivers, teacher’s aides, faculty and a few doctors (on an on) who I admire for various reasons. There are, however, individuals who, based on my prior interactions with them will only ever receive civility (and basic respect) from me. And there are others still who I admire tremendously. I do see a distinct difference for myself in the definitions of respect and admiration. You can and should be respectful, mindful, and good mannered in your interactions with all people, not just service staff. How much respect and admiration comes after that is entirely dependent on the interaction. Respect is a two-way street, but manners should prevail no matter how someone treats you (and you can be good mannered and stand your ground). I will say for the record, I have a hard time respecting someone who has repeatedly been disrespectful to me or someone who has broken my trust. And then, yes, it must be earned back, however, I will maintain my own self-respect and behave accordingly. Having basic manners and treating people civilly should be the norm. I see a need for tolerance and understanding more than an acknowledgement of respect. Tolerance and understanding are mutually reinforcing and do not lend themselves to a sense of being “earned.” When you can have the understanding that maybe a grocery bagger is just having a bad day and can understand empathetically, tolerance is built and kindness wins the day.

    • We definitely agree on many points, Cathy. My main issue was with the people who lack basic respect for others, and worse, the ones who actually believe that others need to earn the right to receive that basic respect. Deep admiration and trust are completely different issues, for sure. And I agree–it’s tough to maintain respect for anyone who has been repeatedly disrespectful to you or has broken your trust. Just like you, I’ll still be civil, but my level of respect will not be the same.

  6. Hi Shola,
    Your post really hit home with me. I was both a bagger and barista while I was in high school. Just as training is provided for most jobs, I was trained on how to bag groceries. We had mystery shoppers and as we walked down the store aisles, we had to greet every customer that was in that aisle and ask them if they needed any help. Some customers would ignore me and some were very pleasant and would smile. If a customer was looking for an item, I would walk them to the aisle where that item was, regardless of what I was doing. As a barista, there were people just like your acquaintance and those who actually respected the job I was doing. At times, I was the only barista working between the hours of 6:00 am to 8:00 am, which was usually when most people needed their morning java. One day, two regular customers came in and asked me why I was working by myself and I told them that we were short staffed. They immediately asked to speak to my manager but not to complain about me, but to ask him why I was left by myself and why I didn’t have any help during this busy time. They told my manager that it wasn’t fair for me to be working alone just because we were short staffed. This had been going on for a few weeks and these customers would come in regularly and had noticed how stressful it had gotten for me. Once they were done speaking with the store manager, it only took about 15 minutes and my manager had already gotten someone to help me. ‘Til this day, I still remember those two people and what they did for me. If they wouldn’t have given me respect from the very beginning, they wouldn’t have cared at all. I will always be grateful for people who make this world a better place. For those who feel that respect should be earned, they definitely need to re-evaluate their morals.

    • Yenny, I love that story! Thanks so much for sharing that with us! That is the power of respect in action. And years later, you still remember how those two customers showed you a deep respect for the work you did. Sure, they could have gotten indignant about the coffee shop being short-staffed, but instead they showed you sincere compassion and concern. That is why respect and kindness is so important–being on the receiving end of it has the power to stick with us forever, just like it has with you.

  7. Oh how I love this post, Shola!!! I have been saying this for years about respect… It must be given! I respect everyone simply for being a fellow human being. I don’t expect anything but simple respect in return.

    We are in crisis in this country, however. There are far too many people who say respect must be earned and are DISrespectful because they think its their right.

    I try so hard to treat every person I meet with the same respect and kindness. The only time I find it to be a struggle is when the person I meet does not do the same.

    Arrogance, entitlement, prejudice and rudeness are the things that push me to where I struggle to give respect. I start out giving it, but that behavior causes me to want to stop. (As a good friend likes to say, those things make me “lose my Jesus!” lol)

    Thank you for your post. I am so 100% in agreement with you!

    Any book signings set up for the East Coast yet????? 😉


    • Yes! Seriously, can’t we just respect people simply for being a fellow human who shares this earth us? I’m with you though–it’s very hard for me to keep respect for people who are prejudiced, rude, intolerant, and just an overall ass to others. The key is to not give that disrespect back to the other person (which admittedly, is the biggest test of all.) Most of all, don’t let anyone make you lose your Jesus! That phrase actually made me literally “LOL” as I read it.

      As for the book tour, no news yet about the locations, but once I know more info about any east coast spots, you will definitely know–count on it!

  8. Hi Shola, big fan of your website. Interestingly I have done many many jobs (including washing dishes, cleaning toilets) in group B and just left a career I have worked for twenty years in the A group…why? I encountered record levels of abuse, bullying ,(including yelling, swearing, throwing things, threats of violence etc) in the A group…rarely did I encountered any of this in the B group, maybe even never. It’s tough all around!

    • Thanks Jean, I appreciate the kind words and the support! You bring up such an interesting point that I never really thought of before. For the first half of my adult life, I was in Group B. Now that I’m in Group A, I’ve noticed that the kindness and respect for others doesn’t come close to what I experienced with my peers in Group B. Clearly, multiple degrees and fancy corner offices do not necessarily have the ability to teach how to respect others. Thanks for the insight and for being a part of the Solution!

  9. well there my man you hit the nail on the head i never worked in a grocery store but i have sure pumped gas and had to clean the toilets and i truly agree even basic respect is so hard to find.. good job you !!!!!

  10. Hi Shola,

    Firstly, I’ve been reading your site recently and have to say that your general outlook and all the likeminded (high EQ) people that have been attracted to comment have resonated with me greatly.

    In reference to this post on respect not being earned – I cannot fathom why people are rude to service providers; it shows the perpetrator’s internal insecurity and bitterness and gives insight to their core values (or lack thereof). I also agree it provides an indicator of how you will eventually be treated so I do keep an eye out for this behaviour.

    I have pondered this subject awhile and discovered it is a power play of sorts; ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality is ingrained in the human psyche and that tends to manifest itself from greed, jealousy and fear into social problems such as war/crime, terrorism and inequality (pay gap, wealth etc).
    I read somewhere that war is the end result of poorly managed conflict and I wholeheartedly agree; I believe in compromise and balance, that there is always a solution.

    For me though, respect is not necessarily a given (having been severely burned in the past i’m far more cautious about who to trust); but it is a mutual exchange and the foundation from which to form good relationships. As Teresa mentioned before Good Manners (ie: consistent recognition of the humanity of another person) is probably the first step towards Respect, Honesty, Trust and Loyalty.

  11. Christopher Reiling says:

    I’m with you on respect starting high on respect! I think we have to do the same with trust, which is the foundation of all relationships. A mentor of mine really emphasizes this point when he’s working with teams to improve communication and performance, and calls our initial trust level the trust “bank.” I believe trust can be withdrawn and it earned, but it must start high for good relationships to be established. Assume best intentions until shown otherwise! Thanks for putting positivity out there.

  12. Absolutely agreed with and loved the article. You’re doing a great job. Thumbs up 🙂
    I was going through the site and saw an article about how we’re scared of performing to our full potential in case we might offend someone by doing something better than them. I was pretty sure I saved it to read it later but turned out I didn’t cuz now I can’t find it. And went through your site as well. Didn’t find it there either. Do you mind sharing the link? Really looking forward to read it.

  13. Thought this article was great. Like so many other things in the world, we are getting away from our basic principles especially in a self entitled generation. This, unfortunately is an issue with my wife and myself. We have been married for less than a year and are a blended family. Unforunfortunately, she also thinks respect is earned. And has passed that on to her children. It has become a huge problem in our relationship particularly with her children which have no respect for anyone. I feel it is our responsibility to keep the ball rolling on this particular subject. All you have to do is turn on the t.v. and watch some of these shows to see how far away our society is getting from this. Anyways… I could go on and on. Just wanted to say thank you and am grateful there are still people out there that still have good basic core values.

  14. Glen Kilgore says:

    Respect: shoulder to shoulder we all walk. Honor, upon lifted shoulders we walk together as one much taller.

  15. Shola,

    I was researching the modern take on respect when I stumbled into your blog. Well written, and it is exactly the truth. Thank you for restoring my faith in human kind.


Speak Your Mind