cover image Respect: An Exploration

Respect: An Exploration

Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, Sara Lawrence Lightfoot. Basic Books, $23 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-7382-0093-4

In this provocative study, Harvard professor of education Lawrence-Lightfoot probes the common perception that our social fabric is deteriorating from the absence of respect in intimate relationships, the workplace and public life. She also details how, in her view, proper respect can create ""symmetry, empathy and connection,"" even in socially unequal relationships. The book's chapters are structured around the personal stories of six professionals (five based in Boston) whom Lawrence-Lightfoot interviewed and observed and whose approaches to their work reveal ""one crucial dimension of the term."" A pediatrician's work in an inner- city clinic illustrates that ""respect is a verb""; the doctor's rootedness in her family history allows her to take on the role of a ""patient advocate"" who worries about her pediatric residents' ""preoccupation with technique and technology, with symptoms rather than the children they will care for."" The combination of gritty pragmatism and spiritual commitment she exemplifies recurs throughout the book: a teacher in a wealthy Boston suburb shows how both teaching and respect are ""loaded with risk""; a renowned photographic artist avoids a ""predatory"" role by being ""vulnerable and conspicuous"" in his relationships with subjects on whose consent he depends. Lawrence-Lightfoot's style is breezy and confessional as she blends her own experiences with those of her subjects while providing a deft sociological brief on how respect (institutional as well as interpersonal) has been defined during the last three or four American generations. As in her previous works, (I've Known Rivers, etc.) Lawrence-Lightfoot also obliquely addresses color-consciousness in African-American hierarchy and the persistent class divide in black and white America. Ad/promo; author tour. (Apr.)