“If you can't make people love you at least make sure they respect you.” I'd heard these words in my mind a thousand times before I actually wrote them. They seemed so familiar that I thought they must have come from a poem by Sun Tzu or some classic movie. And they may have still. Yet when I began my research on this topic I could find surprisingly little beyond New Age-y self-help platitudes.
The closest I came to my intention was a quote from A Bronx Tale where Chazz Palminteri’s gangster character, Sonny says something to the effect of, “It’s better to be feared than loved.” This is a good scene in a good movie but what Sonny says is not really the same thing as what I’ve heard in my mind. Fear requires a real or implied threat. True, you must respect someone you fear but that is not the most interesting path to the modern man. Unless you’re a criminal or someone with enough power to wield it like a sledgehammer, fear probably isn’t even an option for you.
Given the choice, would you really prefer respect to love? It’s hard to argue that love is not the more valuable of the two. It keeps us warm at night & replenishes our spirits, winnowed down by struggles within the world. Yet you cannot earn someone’s love. You can do things to help it along surely, but in the end someone either loves you or they don't. Being loved is out of your control. However you can earn someone’s respect. This is ultimately why respect is a superior emotion to love. It is merit based.
No matter how hard you strive you cannot make someone love you. Whereas, if you’ve done the proper work, someone must respect you even if they hate you. Someone who dislikes you may say aloud, "I do not respect him/her". But if you stand firm, consistently & competently fighting for your cause, deep down inside your foe will know the lie. More importantly this respect is not just a moral victory but a reason to hold your head high in a pitiless world & it forces your opponents to stand grudgingly aside, where they would block another’s path.
A major problem with love is that if you show someone love but they do not love you in return it necessarily means you've opened yourself up to being taken advantage of. If you go into the world offering what you have in the form of selfless love but it goes unreciprocated, you may find yourself soured on the notion of love and what's more, taken advantage of by the cruel world. You may spend your money, your time and your affections on those ruthless con-artists who prey upon the lonely-hearted.
There is an imbalance here as it pertains to the sexes. Men are predominantly the ones actively seeking love while the women decide to either accept the offer, take a pass, or (less often it should be noted) hold them in the lurch until such time as they become a usefull fool to manipulate . This opens the man up to at worst, being taken advantage of by unscrupulous women & at best, if the woman is just, pressured to present his "capacity for love" with showy displays of conspicuous spending, in her favor of course.
Because of this imbalance in the way of things a man who is unsuccessful with women may more readily come to feel isolated from & put upon by the opposite sex. This is where the seeds of resentment grow. If he puts his best foot forward, forgives but then has the cycle repeat ad infinitum, the emotions become all the more harsh. They fester over long, lonely nights where the old excuses fall shattered to the ground like glass. This begs the question: what are these men to do? Lower their standards to the point they can longer respect themselves? Throw themselves into their work? Drown the empty promises inside a bottle? Numb it with a drug? Or maybe embrace some "enlightened" spiritual spiel about the path to inner peace being a lack of desire?
In the end these are all jury-rigged solutions to a problem that a man can either solve or he cannot, depending on factors outside of his control. Of course he should keep trying & of course it's too soon to give up... but no amount of physical fitness, education, ambition, or self-sacrifice will EARN him what he craves. A woman will either deign to relieve him from his weariness, like a goddess descending from Mt. Olympus to bless some poor desiccated wretch; or more likely, she will stick with the kind of man she's used to: the privileged ones who're familiar with the fine customs & culture behind the cold iron gates of Mt. Olympus. This leaves you, the wretch, to another cold, dark night of the soul.
In finally summation we return to the original question, “Is it better to be loved or respected?” Although we cannot deny the importance of love to contribute meaning & fulfillment to our lives, I think we’ve established that the latter is the more virtuous emotion to elicit from your fellows. It boils down to the maxim that what is won is much more valuable than that which is given. None of what I have said is meant to imply that respect is easily won; even neutral parties are reluctant to cede ground to one who grasps for self-empowerment. And the thrill of victory cannot come without considerable risk of failures along the way. The champion learns to thrive not just on victory but, almost masochistically, on all the failures leading up to it. We must endeavor to teach ourselves this lesson, whether we seek to find love or earn respect.