Updated: Jul 12, 2020
While the phrase “respect your elders” has been used for centuries, true respect must be earned.
Respect is a personal and earnest feeling you may hold for someone. With that said, of course, you would not respect (feel high acclaim for) someone who you felt was behaving as a rotten person - irrespective of their age, so respect MUST be earned.
However, the question is probably more about how to respond when society's expectations for behavior are counter to the personal standard you set for yourself to behave/live authentically, wherein letting the chips fall where they may.
“Respecting” someone should not be confused with “acting respectfully toward” someone.
And make no mistake about it, it’s called “acting" for a reason.
If you pick the behavior then you pick the consequences. There is no blanket answer in the real world. So it will always come down to a case-by-case decision.
If the old tau/tai is a self-righteous driver who just yelled at you for bicycling in his/her “turn lane", then that elder probably needs to be informed that it's time to turn in his/her driver's license.
However, if the old fool is your boss, then the authentic thing to do is to internally acknowledge the fact that you are choosing to “act" respectfully because (A) your family really enjoys eating; and (B) because you authentically feel that expressing patience and tolerance toward those who are to be pitied for their lack of intelligence defines you as a higher-evolved human being. (just focus your mind on how difficult life would be if you were the type of person to lash out at people regardless of whether they were in the right or in the wrong (“so sad to be them” = authentic pity + compassion))
There is no actual reality, it's all just perception. Our personal reality is how we choose to think about things. If you are a highly introspective/analytical/logical/pragmatic type of person, I think there is always a way to remain authentic while also choosing the behavior which brings about the overall best consequences for you.
Humans are programmed to survive. Evolved humans didn't lose that but furthermore probably later developed the cognitive ability/desire to survive while holding themselves to a higher standard of behavior. In doing so, humans gained the ability to decide how to think about things; how to perceive (make sense of) the world around them.
In short, I think elders should NEVER be respected when they don’t respect us in return. That would be inauthentic.
Here are a few tips for gaining the respect of juniors or young people.
Listen more than you talk. Young people have ideas and experiences to share.
Ask questions. Asking questions shows your interest in what the young person thinks and believes.
Don’t be bossy. Ask a young person to do something rather than telling or demanding. You are both equally important.
Unless there is a safety issue, there is no reason to raise your voice or assume you are right.
Accept and acknowledge differences in opinion. Do not negate a young person’s opinion by assuming they will think differently when they are older or that they are naïve.
Allow young people to have an equal voice when making decisions.