A person's decency, it has been said, should be judged by the way he treats his subordinates. Deference towards a superior may indicate nothing other than perhaps cowardice. Even regard to an equal can be little more than pragmatism. But when we show respect to someone socially or politically inferior to us — now that is a mentsch.

The finest form of praise is not the compliment you offer someone — whether sincere or not — but the real value you attach to his or her opinion. Telling a child she is clever is not nearly as meaningful as genuinely showing interest in what she has to say. Asking your colleague for his opinion goes much further in promoting his self-worth than saying a few nice words.

They say that actions speak louder than words; but words can also be actions. When you turn to your husband in a fashion boutique and ask, "What do you think?" you're not just paying lip service. By taking counsel from your husband, even when you are doubtful of his fashion-sense, you are showing, not just saying, that his opinion matters.

It is easy to disregard the views of children — after all, they are mere juveniles over whom we correctly have authority. But that would be a mistake. Young people have opinions and feelings too. If you belittle them, you diminish them as a person and reduce the likelihood of them cooperating with you in your efforts to educate them.

The great Torah scholar Rabbi I. Z. Meltzer was once asked by a friend to test his son on the Talmud he was learning in school. The boy gave the wrong answer, so the rabbi kindly explained the correct meaning and asked the boy, "This is how I understood it, is this was you meant?" The boy repeats his incorrect interpretation. The rabbi keeps trying to gently alert the young boy to the mistake he's making, but the boy holds fast to his mistake. The rabbi and all those present were becoming increasingly irritated by the boy's stubbornness. Whereupon Rabbi Meltzer left the room and began pacing the hallway, all the time repeating to himself as if reciting a mantra: "Respect for others means children as well. Respect for others means children as well...." Having said this to himself more than a dozen times, he returned to the boy and said sweetly, "So tell me again, how do you understand this passage?"

What a wonderful thought: respect for other includes children as well! Rabbi Meltzer's strategy is not only morally superior — it is infinitely more effective. Constantly telling the boy what to think clearly achieved nothing. Paradoxically, discussing the child's mistaken view will sooner get him to change his view than directly pointing out the error.

They say, it takes a big person to admit a mistake. Putting someone down makes them feel small; of course they won't be inclined to acknowledge an error. Show another respect, even when he or she is wrong, and you will more than likely have them on your side. I suppose, in the end, you can call it simple self-interest: showing respect for others is the surest way to gain their cooperation and support.