The old bit of supposed wisdom, “Respect is not given, it is earned,” is well known if not seriously followed by many people from all walks of life.
While it is an understandable sentiment in our too often chaotic world, where disrespect has become a given from more and more less-than-happy folks, it is a sentiment that traditional Lakota could never agree with or live by.
Indeed, the concept of waóhola (respect) is basic to nearly every aspect of a traditional Lakota life.
Respect for the spiritual nature of each organism, especially the earth itself, began to be instilled from birth and is widely regarded as one of the most important of Lakota values on compiled lists of varying authenticity found floating around while you might be aimlessly surfing the internet.
Respect is of such vital significance that it is tightly entwined into the very heart of the Lakota language.
The use of special kinship terms is essential to teaching what is viewed as the proper respect for other human beings who come to the people in a peaceful manner.
When meeting a stranger for the first time one is greeted by a male Lakota as either “tȟaŋháŋši “ to a man, or “haŋkáši” to a woman, both words mean “cousin.” A female Lakota uses “čépȟaŋši” when talking to a woman and “šičʼéši” when talking to a man, again both words mean cousin.
Relationships grounded in mutual respect are thus assumed based on one’s inherent kinship to all living things. This concept is repeatedly taught as inseparable from being truly guided by Lakota values.
The highly regarded author and philosopher, Luther Standing Bear, wrote in his classic book, Land of the Spotted Eagle, first published in 1933, “Out of the Indian approach to life there came a great freedom, an intense and absorbing respect for life, enriching faith in a Supreme Power, and principles of truth, honesty, generosity, equity and brotherhood as a guide to mundane relations.”
Mundane relations are those that we frequently find in our daily lives.
Saying hello and briefly visiting with a mere acquaintance in the store, or acknowledging and returning a warm greeting from a cheerful employee are just two simple examples it is perhaps easy to relate to.
For traditionally minded Lakota, maintaining respect for one another in our too often chaotic world is a given, but maybe certain feelings, such as friendship, trust, and love, are what really need to be earned.