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Editor’s blog Monday 11 April 2011: The respect agenda of Mr Lansley

Rumour reaches us from the RCN Congress that Secretary Of State For The Time Being Andrew Lansley will only meet 60 nurses who must be "respectful".

Yes, this is part of the 'listening exercise' during the pause.

Words almost fail me, although a few four-letter ones spring to mind.

Atomised respect and traditional respect
In popular usage, 'respect' has become conflated with notions of individual identity and status - respect is an individual's manor, patch, turf, ends. Call it what you will; it's basically territorial.

It tends to lead to the unedifying spectacle of people behaving in empirically obnoxious ways, who are loudly bemoaning the fact that others are "disrespecting" them, with absolutely no hint of irony.

This concept of respect as an individuated marker of self-worth is a problematic step away from the traditional, more social context of respect as part of a world-view.

Once upon a time, although individual practitioners were known to be incompetent or otherwise unworthy, there was generic respect for professions and institutions. It's possible to consider that we as a society may have moved too far from a respectful world-view, without wishing for a return to a culture of deference.

Perhaps this change is an inevitability in a society which has for some time tended to denigrate the collective and venerate the individual. We have witnessed the metastatising of the cult of celebrity as the apotheosis of the latter.

It's interesting, because we also know in our subconscious that collective behaviours and impulses matter. Top football clubs no longer represent or are meaningfully rooted in their original communities: they represent multimillionnaires and billionaires playing games with millionaires.

Yet still, the desire to come together in a cause endures. The romantic myth that professional sportsmen should be loyal to a club endures.

Similarly, live music events have held up astonishingly well during a recession.

There is a down-side to collectivity, of course, when it turns into the wisdom of crowds as exemplified by mobs. (Twitter, which as @HPIAndyCowper I love, can be quite bad for this - but it is an enabler of groupthink, rather than a cause.) The classic text on this is Mackay's 'Extarordinary Popular Delusions And The Madness of Crowds'.

There is also ersatz-collectivity, which smacks of enforced fun. PM Cameron's appeal for the nation to unite in joyful Royal Wedding Street Parties reeks of this, and reminds me of a previous employer whose parties were compulsory to attend ...

I'd be very happy to party with my neighbours - I'm lucky enough to have likeable ones. However, doing so at the PM's suggestion, and on behalf of the eldest son of the eldest son of the eldest son of the eldest son of the eldest son of the eldest son of the bloke who shagged Nell Gwyn doesn't do it for me. (That joke is stolen from the brilliant Bill Bryson.)

And thank you, Dr Google, because I certainly had not spotted that PM Cameron's wife is thought by genealogists to be the great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great granddaughter of Charles I's mistress. Crikey. I'm not quite clear whether that's a sort of hereditary lèse_majesté?

Try a little politeness
Mr Lansley and his team might more reasonably have specified as a prerequisite 'politeness' rather than respect. They did not. This is a silly error.

Because Lansley and company do not have the ability to read people's minds (indeed, apparently quite the reverse). You can clearly tell when someone is impolite to you. Disrespect is far easier to mask successfully. It is also far more corrosive.

And respect can, of course, grow if you have open dialogue without vapid preconditions.

The tin ear for the general mood is growing ever more apparent. It bodes ill for the listening exercise.