I read something yesterday that’s quickly come to mean a lot to me. Sorry, but it was in French. Je suis mon maitre. (Translation: I am my master.)

I took a year of French in college because it was required. Although I knew it fairly well at the time because I haven’t used it, I’ve lost most of what I knew at the time, but I can read it most of the time. Because I stink at translating now, I saw this quote on Twitter yesterday, and I was convinced it was “I am my respect”. That doesn’t even make sense, but it got me thinking about respect and the poem Invictus by Henley. If you haven’t ever read that poem, you should. It was a favorite of Nelson Mandela. It’s deep and moving and says a lot about what motivates us as people.

The idea of respect got to me. Respect is such a fundamental thing in life that it’s difficult to carry on without it. Spouses have to respect each other to keep going. Without that respect, there’s derision, infidelity, manipulation and all sorts of nastiness between what should be two loving adults. Respect is a vital part of our society. Children need to respect their teachers, supervisors, parents, clergy … well, everyone. We expect children to be respectful and if they aren’t we consider them societal pariahs. We have a society based on the principles of respect: we have to respect authority figures such as police, doctors, politicians and bankers.

The thing that has been weighing heavily on my mind at this writing is respect in the workplace. It’s a fundamental thing in corporate America where employment is “at will”. The employer has to will an employee to work for them and offer them a semblance of respect such that an employee feels it in his or her will to continue to be an employee. It’s a symbiotic relationship built on respect. Without respect for an employer, an employee is likely to say or do something during their daily workday that will “show” that level of disrespect and the employer will no longer feel “at will” to continue the relationship with the employee.

So what happens when you lose people’s respect? Is it possible to rebuild respect? Where does that respect come from? And what if both parties don’t participate? Can it be a reasonable expectation in any relationship, not just employee to employer, to continue with only one-sided respect?

I have no answers to these questions. I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of respect and the comings and goings of it. In the end, it comes down to each person. The poem is right and always will be: “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul”.