Self Respect

Without respect for oneself what is a human? We all want to feel that we deserve respect, the respect of others and perhaps most importantly, to be able to respect ourselves.

But self respect must be deserved and justified, if a person behaves in any way despicable then what might seem to be self respect is closer to narcissism, self love.

In Shakespeare's Hamlet Polonius says:

“This above all: to thine own self be true
And it must follow, as the night the day
Thou canst not then be false to any man"

What is required for self respect?

This page was started 2020/10/13, last edited 2021/11/19
Contact: David K. Clarke – ©


False self respect, unjustified self love

Narcissism, self love, as exemplified by US President Donald Trump, is delusional self respect. If one is to have any justified respect for oneself that respect must be earned and deserved.
If one is to have self respect and be justified in that respect surely one must:
  • Seek the truth;
  • Take care to speak/write only the truth;
  • Seek knowledge;
  • Aspire to and respect wisdom;
  • Continually examine one's beliefs and discard any that are not justified by the facts;
  • Be of some value to one’s community and society;
  • Support good causes and oppose bad;
  • Be considerate of the needs and desires of others;
  • Be altruistic rather than selfish;
  • Be compassionate;
  • In this age of the destruction of the natural world that we all rely on I would add that to have self respect we should work toward protection of our shared environment, especially we all have a responsibility to do what we can to minimise the greatest threat to life on earth as we know it, climate change.
About 30 years ago, when I was working for the South Australian Department of Mines and Energy, I remember the Director giving the staff a talk. The main message of the talk was that the one thing we should base our lives on, the one thing that would never let us down, was high ethical standards. So long as one holds onto one's ethical ideals one will always have an anchor that can be relied on. That struck me as very true and very valuable advice.

So long as we hold onto our ideals we can also hold on to our self respect.

Hornsdale Wind Farm, South Australia
Wind farm
The world must turn away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy such as wind power. Considering the number of lies, and the magnitude of those lies, that Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has told about Australia's moral obligations in regard to climate changing emissions and that Energy Minister Angus Taylor has told about wind power it is very difficult to see how either could justifiably have any self respect.

Self respect, similarly to respect from others, must be earned

Achieving great wealth or high position, in themselves, are not justification for self respect. They do not preclude self respect, but they are irrelevant; what matters is what the person did along the way, whether it was deserving of respect, or whether it was despicable. Certainly Australia's billionaires Gina Rinehart and Clive Palmer, who made their money by mining coal and have obstructed action to reduce greenhouse emissions, could not justify holding any respect for themselves (nor do they deserve any respect from others).

Dishonest climate change denying media commentators Andrew Bolt and Alan Jones and Australia's corrupt Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Energy Minister Angus Taylor could not justifiably have any self respect. Similarly, no politician of any of the major parties who does not cross the floor to vote according to his or her conscience could not justify any self respect.

With what is known about climate change and related problems at the time of writing (2020) a person working in the coal industry could no more justify self respect than someone working in the tobacco industry or even the child pornography industry.

This section added

A question of trust and trustworthiness: who wins, who looses; does anyone win or loose?

If one person gains out of cheating another, does the cheat win or loose? He might be better off materially from that single act, but he will have damaged his reputation and surely he must lose some self respect. Honesty is its own reward.

If the person who was cheated strongly suspected that they were being cheated, but had hopes that the cheat would stand by his word, has he behaved wisely or foolishly? Does it simply depend on whether his trust was justified or misplaced? Or is trust creditable in itself, even when it is misplaced?

I wrote this section because I have recently trusted someone to carry on with a community project that I have been involved in over the past few years. I have reason to believe that the person I have trusted is very ready to make promises but not necessarily to be relied on to carry out those promises. Time alone will tell if the promises made are abided by.

Getting back to the main subject of this page, how can a person who cheats another have self respect? Does a person who allows himself to be cheated need to question whether he may have damaged his self respect? Or is placing a burden of trust in someone who is of questionable trustworthiness a good thing to do? Might it improve that person?

Related pages

I have written a number of pages on ethics in the broad context, and in the Australian context elsewhere on this site.