Saturday, November 25, 2017

The Five Levels of Respect

The word "Respect" is used by us many times, each day. Everyone wants to be respected. No human being wants to be disrespected or humiliated. What is "Respect"? "Give respect and take respect" is a saying that is often quoted. Does respect come your way automatically when you give respect to another? Are there any preconditions for earning respect? What are the reasons behind someone being respected? Are all people to be respected equally? Are there some gradings in the levels of respect that is to be given and received? These questions are worth pondering and beg for an answer.

There are many definitions of the word "Respect". One of the definitions is "esteem for or a sense of the worth or excellence of a person, a personal quality or ability, or something considered as a manifestation of a personal quality or ability". It also means "deference to a right, privilege, privileged position, or someone or something considered to have rights or privileges; proper acceptance or courtesy; acknowledgement to be held in respect etc". How does this privileged position come? There can be many theories and explanations as to why someone should be respected and the extent of respect to be given.

One commonly and widely accepted belief in our society is that age and knowledge are to be respected. The community holds the aged and knowledgeable people in deference and courtesy. There is also a latent feeling that some wisdom automatically comes with age, though this may not always be true. Ancient Indian literature provides many dimensions of giving and receiving respect. It mandates that respect should be given to some. It also directs that some are to be respected irrespective of their apparent or perceived deficiencies. It also gives five clear cut levels of respect to be given and also calibrates their relative inter se levels. There are possibilities that some people may be worthy of being respected for more than one of these reasons.

What are these five levels and what is their inter se relativity? The five levels are due to Money or Wealth possessed, One's relatives, Age, Achievements made, and Knowledge gained by the person. How is this classification justified? What is the logic for such a calibration? 

It is common knowledge that people with lot of money or wealth (वित्तं) are respected in society. As already mentioned above, such wealthy people might deserve respect due to other four parameters as well. Even if they are not entitled to any respect due to other parameters, mere possession of wealth alone makes them entitled to some respect. Such money or wealth might have come to them from some other source and not due to their own efforts. This is the lowest of the five levels of respect given by the society. If the wealth has been accumulated by their own hard earning efforts, then they would be respected due to the fourth level as well. Respect for such people stays as long as the wealth remains with them. Once wealth is gone, the respect given by the society also goes away. As ancient literature mentions in various places, wealth makes people find many virtues in them!

The second level of respect comes from one's relatives (बन्धुः). This type of respect is due to a position held in relativity. It is not uncommon to see people respecting someone because he is someone's son or son-in-law. If the relation between the two were not there, the respect would also not be there. A minister's PA is respected as long as he stays as a PA. Why only the PA, it is true of the ministers as well. If he loses that job, the respect also gets extinguished. If the person has done some sincere service while enjoying the position, or discharged his duties sincerely, he may still be given some respect even after losing the position. That would be the respect earned due to one's achievement.

The third level of respect comes from one's age (वयः). Mere age is respected often as we can see from the growing awareness and deference shown to senior citizen nowadays. the assumption is that these people have contributed to the general welfare of the society. This level of respect remains till the end of one's life and is expected to grow each day, unless the person squanders the same due to some bad deeds. 

The fourth level of respect is due to one's own achievements (कर्म or साधन). This is solely due to one's own achievements in the chosen field or fields. This comes due to lot of efforts and is accumulated over time. It stays with the person and does not go away for any reason. The ones who have achieved distinctions in diverse fields are respected irrespective of age and wealth. Some of the achievements may be at a young age itself whereas some others may be fructifying at ripe old age. This is indeed a higher level of respect.

The fifth and highest level of respect is earned due to knowledge and wisdom (विद्या). Here the word Vidya does no denote the mere bookish knowledge or the number of degrees one earns by studies. It is much more than bookish knowledge and expectation is that it is blended with practical applications. Knowledge and wisdom that is selfish and does not benefit the society is not acceptable here for respect. This is the highest form of respect and a learned and wise man will be respected wherever he goes. The adage विद्वान् सर्वत्र पूज्यते is indeed applicable to such people. 

The five levels of respect and their grading has been beautifully summed up in this ancient verse:
वित्तं बन्धुः वयः कर्म विद्याचैवतु पञ्चमी |
एतानि मान्य स्थानानि गरॆयोयद्यदुत्तरम् ||

Vittam Banhduhu Vayah Karma Vidyachaivatu Panchami,
Etani manya sthaanaani gareeyoyadyaduttaram.


While the grading of the five levels of respect are indeed codified above, present day tendency of giving highest respect to wealth is sometimes disturbing. The pressures and pleasures of modren day life is driving the younger generation primarily towards accumulation of wealth. The opinions on this issue may be divided as well. Whatever may be one's opinion, even today we can see that achievements and wisdom have their own pride of place and always attract respect.


  1. Sir..
    A blog well written. Nice to know you derive your ideas from the treasure house of our Samskruta verses.

    You and even the Samskruta verse you have quoted rate Knowledge (vidwat) higher than the achievements (Karma). But knowledge and even skill is useless, unless it is put to use. We have come across so many who were innocents, but achieved because of their grit and strong will to achieve something.

    Therefore achievement (Karma) may should command the highest respect.

    Of course people may differ in their views.

    1. It is clearly mentioned in the post that "Knowledge" here does not mean mere bookish knowledge. The word "Vidya" means application of knowledge for the benefit of the society at large. It is also mentioned that knowledge and wisdom that does not benefit the society is useless. That level of knowledge and application do come with lot of efforts only.

      The point made by you is also the same. There is no difference in the two views!

  2. Informative and educator..nice article..Thanks

  3. Sir, Maybe the achievement of wealth in many ways is attached to Karma, hence 4th level of respect may be also part of the wealth.

    1. The post clearly mentions that wealthy people may be deserving respect due at other four levels as well. It is at lowest level only when it is not backed by other four things. Wealth accrues many times due to one's hard work, which automatically brings respect at fourth level!

  4. Very well explained about the five levels of respect. I enjoyed reading it. Respect is not a given thing. It has to be earned. UR..........

  5. Well explained article on the subject of respect

  6. The quotation'Give respect and Take respect' is very well explained . The levels of respect as per Vedas also well said which is lagging in the modern days students and the younger generation.

  7. Very good article Sir,