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The 'Three Rs': Core Values to Teach Your Children (and Adopt Yourself)


Explanations > Values > The 'Three Rs': Core Values to Teach Your Children (and Adopt Yourself)

Respect | Responsibility | Robustness | So what?


Values are the basic rules we adopt for our lives, especially when interacting with other people. Sharing such values is the basis of a harmonious society, where we are able to live safely and comfortably with others, even strangers, who adopt the same approach.

While there are many values, much can be reduced to the '3Rs' of Respect, Responsibility and Robustness. This is a simple and clear set that not only can we all adopt, but which is easy to teach to children.


Respect is 'respect of' someone or something. It is a mindset that leads to respectful action.

Respect means accepting people as they are, with all their differences. This does not mean that you should weakly give in to demands and ignore antisocial actions, but it does mean respecting the inner person, even when you may criticize what they say or do.

Respect means avoiding judgement, where you might assume the other person is bad in some ways. It means avoiding falling into the Theory of Mind trap, where we believe we know what others are thinking and feeling (and easily assume this is uncharitable and about us).

Respect starts with self-respect. How we think about others is often a reflection of our self-image. When we are truly comfortable in our own skin, it is much easier to respect others, too. Self-respect does not include arrogance, which is often a cover-up for poor self-respect. Indeed, much outer dysfunction is a sign of inner disharmony.

One of our deep drivers is the need for status, in which others accept and admire us, respecting our seniority and expertise. This can lead to disrespectful conflict as we gossip and climb over one another to get up the narrowing hierarchy. Paradoxically, we can gain more respect and support by giving respect. In showing integrity we can also expect respect in return. When others like the respect you give them, they may translate this into authority and start pushing you down. This is where simple assertiveness can be used to respectfully require respect.

Respect also includes respect for society and the social system that binds us together and reduces distrust and conflict. It means respecting rules, laws and social norms. This does not mean being a slavish prude, especially when this leads to the trap of always judging others. It does, however, mean understanding rules and only breaking them when there is very good reason.

Beyond our society, we should respect other societies, animals and nature at large. Respect for the planet translates into respect for future generations. It includes constraining our consumption and supporting long-term conservation goals.

Overall, then, we should show respect of ourselves, other people, society (and it's institutions and rules), and the natural world in which we live.


Responsibility in this context is mostly 'responsibility for' completing promises, taking action or accepting consequences of your past actions. You can also have 'responsibility for' people or things when they are in your care. A further form is to have 'responsibility to' a superior in carrying out commands or promises.

Responsibility means doing the things we should do. But what 'should' we do? These are often dictated by the roles we have, such as employee, friend and citizen. The employee has formally defined responsibilities, while friends have only informal, socially defined responsibilities. Citizens have a combination of the two, with both formal responsibility as laid down by law, and informal, socially defined responsibility.

We have free will and may or may not complete those tasks for which we have responsibility. This leads to questions of accountability and consequence. To whom are we accountable? Who has the authority to punish us or coerce us into action? At work, managers have such ability. At home, it may be parents or partners. In law, the police and courts keep us in line. And in the social sphere, values, morals and other unwritten norms may be strictly enforced by the people around us, including family, acquaintances and even complete strangers.

To do the jobs for which we have responsibility, we need resources, ability, motivation and support. Resources required include time, money, tools and materials. Ability includes knowledge and skill. Motivation gives us the energy to do the job, even when it gets boring or difficult. We may also need help from others, for example to provide some of the above or to legitimise our actions.

Responsibility is often paired with authority. Authority lets you take decisions and allocate resources. It lets you assert expertize. it may increase your ability to influence and even command others. Sometimes also, responsibility and authority become separated. Managers may have command authority where they pass responsibility to subordinates and then sit in blameless judgement. The hapless employees get the other side of the coin, with responsibility but no authority in a potentially no-win, ser-up-to-fail scenario. Well-meaning social volunteers can have the same dilemma where they gave local politics and petty jealousies Children may see the adulthood they seek as having the freedom to do what they like with none of the responsibility.

Sometimes responsibility is given, even if the person is unwilling. Managers assign responsibility to subordinates when they allocate tasks. Parents give chores to their children and expect them to study hard. We also expect friends to help us and to act in accordance with our own values.

Responsibility may also be taken, for example where a volunteer helps out with a local charity or an employee takes on extra work in the hope that it will help their career. Such responsibility may be taken by adopting ad-hoc roles that can vary in duration from moments to years.

We teach children about responsibility by giving them chores and explaining morality, then holding them accountable for these. We also socialise them with stories.


Robustness is largely about 'robustness of' oneself in sustaining a functioning self and coping with issues. We can also show robustness in our actions, doing things that are reliable and long-lasting.

Life is full of disappointments and the motivation to pick oneself up and keep going is a critical skill. More than this, it is also an attitude and basic value borne out of a healthy self-respect and taking responsibility for oneself.

Robustness means having the courage to face risks and do what is right rather than what seems easy. It means having the character and integrity to act when others hold back. It means doing the right thing even if this is unpopular. It does not necessarily mean being foolhardy in the face of danger, but it certainly does not mean avoidance as a default action.

With a robust approach to life, it is easier to be independent, standing alone as needed. The emotional strength of robustness means you do not need to lean on others or depend on their support.

Robustness has a particular attitude towards failure where it is not seen as a bad thing nor taken as being shameful. Quite the reverse, failure is welcomed as an opportunity to learn. Even though failure can be disappointing, a robust character who is knocked down picks themself up, dusts themself down, and looks for learning that can help make things better next time.

Often, robustness means standing up for what you believe to be right. It means standing your ground and fighting your corner, even when you seem alone in your views. More likely is that others date not day what you voice, and that they may, with encouragement, rally to your flag. Robustness is attractive and convincing. It is hence an attribute of leaders who achieve significant change.

Persistence is another attribute of robustness. When others might give up, having a dogged determination can help people win through difficult or simply boring times. Sometimes you need various resources and support, and sometimes you just need to keep going.

We can even be 'anti-fragile' where we not only survive difficulties, we also thrive and grow in chaos, uncertainty and change.

Being realistically robust also needs that we know when to change our approach and give up on banging our head against a brick wall. Sometimes it is more successful to be flexible and adapt to the realities on the ground. As humans, we have an enormous ability to adapt, and with a robust approach, we need to decide carefully when to persist and when to flex.

Robustness also helps creativity as the uncertainty of new ideas are entertained without judgement. It allows us to accept and drive change in our lives as we seek growth and development. It lets us change our understanding of the world around us.

So what?

Respect, responsibility and robustness are about being adult. In this, we may need to subvert the self, repress the id, and step beyond the child. They assume adulthood as fully entering society, becoming a functioning, contributing citizen.

The pattern of these three Rs can be seen in classic teenage angst as they demand respect without giving any, seek authority without responsibility, and still fall back into the child's position of helpless victim that pleads to be rescued from their wild plans gone wrong. If parents can teach the three Rs from an early age, perhaps their children might have an easier transition to functioning adulthood.

If you can truly adopt these three Rs, while it may make life more difficult, you will be admired more for your integrity and character. Paradoxically, while respect, reliability and robustness are not always easy to sustain, in the end they make life easier as other people trust you more, accept your arguments and sell to work with you.

As adults, we can reflect on how well we are living this triad of values and so fulfilling our position. Yes, there are other values and sets, yet respect, responsibility and robustness do seem to provide a solid basis for a good life.

See also

The Need for Fairness, The Need for Respect


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