When you’re about to release a book decrying the onslaught of bad behavior in society, it’s helpful to have Kanye West commit the biggest awards-show faux pas in recent memory.
But Deborah Norville saw the need for a book like The Power of Respect long before the rapper butted in on Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the MTV Video Music Awards. Disturbed by the erosion of simple civility and respectful interaction, the longtime newswoman and Inside Edition anchor set about exploring how respect not only is the right thing to do, but it can have benefits that improve lives at home and at work.
She didn’t rely strictly on feel-good anecdotes and trite platitudes, however. Norville delved deep into the subject and researched real-life examples of how respect has effected positive change, and included input from academics and psychologists to back her up.
Norville spoke with us the day after the book’s release to share why it has her so passionate.
Are good manners and respect really going by the wayside, or do you think every generation thinks that as they get older?
I think the culture has become more conducive to disrespect. On the Internet, you can blog away with anonymity and say really hateful things without ever having to be held accountable. Talk radio is the same way, and we see it on some of the cable chat shows where people scream rather than calmly make their points. There seems to be this sense out there that it’s the loud, angry guy that wins. It’s certainly the loud, disrespectful guy that makes the headlines. Everybody knows about Congressman Wilson shouting down the president, everybody knows about Kanye West, so those kinds of behavior do tend to get front-page treatment, and for some people that’s desirable. It used to be you’d never want to call attention to yourself for something like that, but hey if it gets your name in the papers and they spell your name right, for some people, that’s good enough.
So this isn’t just a call for the good old days.
The statistics show that people do not believe this is not a nostalgia trip, that in fact things are worse than they used to be. There was a calmer, gentler time back then, but this is not a longing for that calmer, gentler time, this is in fact a recognition that we have become a more coarse society. But I’m actually very encouraged by that. The statistic is something like 79% of Americans say disrespect is a serious problem. To me, that’s an alarming statistic, but it also says 8 out of 10 of us think it’s a problem, which means 80% are probably inclined to participate in a solution.
You rely heavily on academic studies, along with anecdotal evidence, to show the power of respect. You also did this with your book Thank You Power. Explain why was it important to you to include the academic portions.
Otherwise it’s just another stupid book of hot air. I’m sorry, but you go into the bookstore into the motivational or self-help categories, and the overwhelming majority of these books are just meringues. They make you feel good, there are a lot of platitudes and you put that book down, and it’s like, “Where’s the beef?” Remember that old Wendy’s commercial? You just go, ‘Wait a second. There’s nothing to back this stuff up.’ I’m a journalist. The first bumper sticker I ever bought at a journalism convention a million years ago was one that said, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” I’m sorry, but I can’t do what I do Monday through Friday and not write a book that isn’t absolutely grounded in not just data that I found out there, but data that comes from some of the nation’s best and most respected academicians, psychologists and business experts. And that’s what we’ve got. When I talk about the power of respect in education, I’m looking at a program that’s been in existence for over 11 years, that is currently being implemented in more than 9,000 schools in 35 states. So when I say this program has been shown to help teachers reclaim 17 days of additional teaching time — time they used to spend breaking up fights and sending kids to the principal’s office, I’ve got the data to back it up. When I say those respect programs in schools have helped children double their reading scores, that’s because it was 40 some percent and it went up to 80 some percent. These are real numbers, this isn’t made-up, wishful thinking — this is concrete data that’s got the spreadsheets to back it up.
How do those respect programs generally work?
The gist of it is this. They cost next to nothing, the expenditure is in staff time. When a school community comes together, when you let high-schoolers in on the project to decide what you want the school to be, then it can work. You reward and you celebrate the behavior that works. Free tickets to the prom, premium parking spots … You have to earn your way to some of the privileges, and it can completely change the culture of the school.
There are a lot of success stories like that in the book. If these programs are so effective and so cheap, how come everybody isn’t doing it?
[People get] suspicious. It sounds like one of those Ginsu knife commercials. “But wait, there’s more …” It almost sounds too good to believe, because it’s so simple. But I think that’s the brilliance of it. The brilliance is in the simplicity. You don’t have to spend a lot of money, but what you have to do is come to a consensus of thought of what it is we want to achieve. Sometimes that’s not easy, but if you keep your eye on the prize, which is we want a respectful environment where teachers can teach and kids can learn. If that’s what you have at the core, you actually can get there.
You mentioned the Internet earlier. Do you think technology has contributed to the current trend toward disrespect, with the anonymity of saying something online?
I think technology’s a part of it. Our world has changed hugely. Think about it. We measure time in nanoseconds. There’s a speed and rapidity to everything. Do it now, get it done. What you do, what I do, we have deadlines that are unforgiving and sometimes we’ve got to yell to get things done. Doesn’t make it right, but I understand the dynamics that dictate that does sometimes happen. That said, when things slow down, you can go back and say, “Hey, you really busted your chops on that one. Thank you very much.” I don’t think our world has become so insanely paced that there isn’t time to acknowledge the efforts of others, to make sure they know how important they are to the overall project that you’re working on, and to give people a sense that not only do they have a future here, but we really want to know what you think we can do to make things better. That doesn’t cost anything but time, and we’re not so time-pressured that sometime in our interactions with one another — and it might be after the deadline — we can’t go and say, “Hey. Thanks a lot.”
Is there a difference of degree in just having good manners and being truly respectful?
[Having good] manners is politeness. Respect is different. Respectful people are mannerly, but I define respect as obviously treating other people the way you’d like to be treated, and acknowledging and recognizing the value in each individual. Each one of us has something unique about us that is probably to be valued. Sometimes you have to look hard to find it, but it’s there. One of the things that’s important in giving respect is what you’re doing is you’re acknowledging to that other individual that I see your value, I know of your value. You are important, and that also is a basic human need. I really believe that the last thought that will fly through our mind as we’re checking out on this planet is, “Did I matter?” And I think respect is one way of assuring people on a regular basis that absolutely you matter. You’re critical.
Has writing this book changed the way you deal with it when people are disrespectful toward you?
I got over that a long time ago. I’ve been working in television for a great number of years and you always want people to love what you do, but not all of them will and if you think that they will then you’re really screwed up. The book hasn’t changed my impressions on that at all. What working on this book has done is made me more convinced than ever that the power of respect is something that each of us can use as a tool in our lives to make our lives better, to make our businesses more profitable, to make our relationships more successful, and it’s really a choice whether you want to take advantage of that tool or not. I got into this business because I think it’s really cool to find out things and share it with people. This might not be the kind of thing to share day in, day out on Inside Edition, but I think it’s absolutely affirmative information that will totally benefit anybody who picks up the book and spends a couple minutes reading it.
This is a book about doing the right thing, but there’s definitely a profit motive for people, talking about how it can make your business successful and improve your love life. Does that lessen the overall effect if people’s outward respect is simply a means to an end?
I don’t care what the motivation is. My only experience as a journalist for all these years is that people tend not to do the right thing because it’s right, but people are definitely motivated by self-interest, that’s one of the basic human attributes. If I can find a self-interested motive that will encourage people to quote-unquote do the right thing, hey, yay for me. I was clever. I think it’s kind of a good thing. I don’t have any problem with the fact that there’s a certain profit motive for someone who might want to pick this up.
Inside Edition sometimes covers tabloid-type subjects, like Jon and Kate, David Letterman, Drew Peterson, etc. Do you find those kinds of stories tough to identify with, or to reconcile with your own views?
No, on the contrary, I just sit there and I go, “Good grief.” I almost want to send Kanye West a thank-you note for his advance publicity work. I find myself going, “This is such a good example.” Like Jon and Kate, where’s the respect for their family? Look, we do stories about these people, so we’re grateful they agree to do this, but I question why any family would invite the cameras in to focus on their day-to-day family dynamics. I just don’t think that’s conducive to raising children well. That’s my personal opinion. On the other hand, I didn’t force them to do it, and if they’re going to do it, and it’s a TV show that Americans are talking about, then of course we’re going to cover it here on Inside Edition. I think that we cover that story in a way that doesn’t add to the indignity that they’ve already brought on themselves. Today, we’ve got a story where we’re interviewing Kate Gosselin’s brother, and he too has turned on his sister. We didn’t have anything to do with that. The fact that we air his views, that isn’t changing his impressions of the way his sister has made her choices. I don’t think we’re exacerbating the situation when we cover these things. On the contrary, I think we cover them in a way that it’s less of the emotion and more from the intellectual phenomenon in which these people find themselves messed up.