Respect is a strange word, this combination of “fear” and “honor.” Fear which honors; honor which is pervaded by fear. What kind of fear could this be? Certainly not the kind of fear that comes upon us in the face of something that is harmful or causes pain. That kind of fear causes us to defend ourselves or to seek safety. The fear of which we shall speak does not fight or flee, but it forbids obtrusiveness, keeps one at a distance, does not permit the breath of one’s own being to touch the revered object. Perhaps it would be better to speak of this fear as “awe” . . . .
In reverence man refrains from doing what he usually likes to do, which is to take possession and use something for his own purposes. Instead, he steps back, and keeps his distance. This creates a spiritual space in which that which deserves reverence can stand erect, detached and free, in all its splendor. The more lofty an object, the more the feeling of value which it awakens is bound up with this keeping one’s distance.
And yet the experience of value makes us wish to participate in it. So we must determine more exactly for modern man why reverence steps back instead of pushing forward, why it removes its hands instead of grasping. What demands reverence is, above all, the qualities of the person, his dignity, freedom and nobility. But also worthy of respect are the qualities of any work of man which reveal nobility or delicacy. And finally the phenomena of nature which express the sublime or mysterious . . . .
Respect desires privacy for the other person, in the sphere of his own being and in connection with those among whom he lives and to whom he is related, his family, his friends. This is something which is increasingly forgotten in our day. Everywhere we see the urge toward publicity; a mania to see just that which is reserved; a greed for sensation which finds an odious pleasure in unveiling, stripping, causing shame and confusion — an with this the technique which renders its possible, the money behind newspapers, magazines, films and television. What an atmosphere of disrespect for everything personal all this fosters!