"A wry definition of respect in the online Urban Dictionary is 'a quality seriously lacking in today's society.' It's true that we don't always show respect for others, but it is a strong and widely shared principle. It is a value we aspire to live by. Respect for others means esteem and appreciation for all people, regardless of differences in faith, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or other considerations. Respect is more than tolerance. I may tolerate my neighbor's midnight garage band, but enduring something is different from looking for what's good, right and positive (and then, in this example, negotiating a better music schedule).

"This definition of respect implies that there's something worthwhile in the other person, even if we do not agree with the person. It means that we value other points of view. It opens us up to the humanity in others. Americans today disagree on many things, but we are united in the idea that everyone deserves respect — even when we don't personally subscribe to the person's beliefs.

"More than 90 percent of Americans in the national surveys I conducted said that respect for people of different racial and ethnic groups is important to them. The same was true when I asked about respect for people of different faiths and religions. Like other core values, the principle of respect for others is shared by young and old, liberals and conservatives, and people of all faiths and religious affiliations.

"Respect for others is so strong that it shapes the way we view social issues. For example, attitudes about race and gender issues have become less and less polarized over time, because most Americans today are approaching these issues with a general respect for those who are different from themselves. Approval of black-white marriages has steadily increased since Gallup started asking about this issue in 1958. As of 2011, almost nine of ten Americans (86 percent) approved of these marriages, up from 4 percent in 1958. Same-sex marriage is a divisive issue, but support has increased over time. Today, Gallup polls show that a majority of Americans support legalizing same-sex marriage. Many people have changed their minds about it, switching from oppose to approve. The main reasons, according to a 2013 Pew Research Center survey, are knowing someone who is homosexual or growing more open and tolerant over time. Only 8 percent cite equal rights as the reason. In other words, it's respect for others that has shifted attitudes about same-sex marriage.

"Almost all Americans support the principles of religious tolerance and religious freedom. For example, 88 percent of Americans in a 2011 Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) survey completely or mostly agree that 'America was founded on the idea of religious freedom for everyone, including religious groups that are unpopular.' The same PRRI survey found that 95 percent of Americans completely or mostly agree with the statement: 'All religious books should be treated with respect even if we don't share the religious beliefs of those who use them.'

"Why is respect for others such an essential principle? The answer might appear to be self-evident, but it's important to be explicit about why it's important that Americans value respect for others. America is a large, diverse, multicultural society. We are a mix of peoples, religions, races, and ethnicities. Elsewhere diversity spells disaster — hostility, hatred, conflict and violence. Here, a strong principle of respect for others mutes these tendencies, encourages respectful treatment of others, and provides a foundation for laws that promote justice and fairness."