We Could All Learn From “The Jerk.”

The Jerk, starring Steve Martin, has long been one of my favorite movies. Not only is it filled with great comedy, it is filled with wisdom and life lessons. One such lesson is represented by the scene in which Martin’s character, Navin, first sees his name listed in the phone book. “I am somebody!” he exclaims.

That should be meaningful to all of us since it represents the human need for acknowledgement and respect. In fact, I believe respect is one of the most basic of human needs right after air, food and water. None of us want to think that we will journey through life without leaving a mark or even being noticed. Indeed, many human conflicts could be avoided by simply showing respect for others.

Street gangs are formed as a result of seeking a sense of belonging. Usually, they band together when the individual members feel disrespected by others in their community. And they are willing to fight and die when they are disrespected by other gangs.

Likewise, consumers experience frustration and anger when corporations and other institutions treat them as mere sources of money instead of actually working to fulfill their needs. Workers feel unappreciated and disrespected when they are paid too little money, or when extra effort goes unnoticed. Civil rights issues, such as gay marriage, are as much about respect and fairness as they are about freedom and personal liberty.

The need for respect even leads nations into war when they feel that others are trying to take advantage of them. For example, the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States began as the result of President Truman’s bellicose and belligerent statements that showed contempt for our World War II ally. Truman thought that, since we were the only nation to hold the secret of nuclear weapons, he could use that power to disregard prior agreements and exact new concessions from the Soviets.

In other words, Truman ignored the Soviets’ need for respect.

This is a lesson that should be considered as we enter negotiations with Iran and as we press for new trade concessions from China. It’s what both Democrats and Republicans need to consider if they are to accomplish anything that will benefit our citizens during the next session of Congress. It’s what we all need to keep in mind as we interact with each other. Not just during the holiday season, but year ‘round.

As Aretha Franklin sang, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T…I got to have a little respect.” It’s what everyone needs and deserves.