Everyone is disrespectful. Some more than others. Most are unintentionally disrespectful, some intentionally. These last are usually powerful people whose disrespect is tolerated or perversely, even appreciated. But grand examples of disrespectful leaders like Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un, don’t drive the small, and sometimes grossly, disrespectful acts ordinary people perpetrate every day.
Yes, there is much evidence that respect is lacking in the world, and it’s because most people have only a superficial understanding of the word; consequently they can’t consciously practice it— they don’t know how.
One-sided view of respect
Most of us have a one-sided view of respect and don’t really understand the fundamental nature of what it means to be respectful. They go around chasing respect because they know that it feels good to be Respected, while only having a vague notion of what is being done, or not done to them when they are respected. Worse, when they feel disrespected they close down any possibility of gaining it, by repaying disrespect with disrespect.
But their reaction is understandable; it’s difficult to take the higher ground when you’ve never given much thought to the nature and practice of this thing that all including Aretha demand: R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
So what does respect mean anyway?
Aretha can’t help you. If you listen to the lyrics it’s clear her complaint was about a specific instance of her being disrespected. (Interesting trivia: Know what it was? Answer below.)
My mac dictionary definition for respect includes:
1. “a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities or achievements.”
2. “due regard for the feelings, wishes, rights, or traditions of others.”
Most people only relate to the first part—not the second. This may explain why the same people who want respect don’t give it, and stay trapped in a vicious circle of disrespect. In my experience, you do reap what you sow.
Everyone wants to be saluted when they walk into a room; maybe not a formal salute, but to feel noticed, that they matter, and to know that others are willing to help fulfill their hopes, and dreams.
But these very people often never salute those close to them, even those they love. They don’t—consistently at least—give due regard for the feelings, wishes, rights or traditions of the important people in their lives.
What does due regard mean?
- Taking the time to learn the concerns of the people around you: their feelings, wishes, goals, ambitions, rights and traditions; their fears and dreads, and then …
- Honouring those concerns.
Honouring their concerns
Learning what someone’s concerns are is the first step, but honouring their concerns means that your words and actions help—or at least not hinder—them fulfill their ambitions, avoid their fears, and mitigate their dreads.
Some common acts of disrespect:
- Consistently swearing in front of someone who you know finds it offensive.
- Trivializing or judging someone’s dream e.g. to become a magician, writer or Prime minister.
- Being untidy in the space of someone who clearly prefers tidiness.
- Breaking your promise—especially repeatedly e.g. not showing up to a child’s game or performance when you promised to.
- Forgetting an important anniversary.
- Not giving or paying attention to something someone clearly says is important to them. Doesn’t matter what you think of that thing. (Answer to Aretha trivia question above: Her man was ignoring (disrespecting) what was important to her: getting laid.)
Are you respectful?
Who in your life are you disrespecting?
I’m confident there’s at least one, and I can help you answer that question. You’re disrespecting the person, or persons whose fears, ambitions, interests, etc. are unknown to you. They may be so used to being disrespected, by you and others, that they don’t make a big deal of it, but this doesn’t mean you’re not disrespecting them.
Ignorance explains your unconscious act of disrespect. It may never have occurred to you to learn about their concerns, or the person may have kept them from you for fear of being judged (see the second common act of disrespect above).
But if you do know and still you act with no regard, then you have some atoning to do. And if you are not moved to atone then at least have the courage to declare the relationship for what it is: convenient, exploitative, dominating, political etc.; just be clear that it is not respectful.
Of course, you can’t possible know the specific hopes and dreams of everyone that you meet, but you can express “due regard” for people whom you don’t know well by any or all that follow:
Acknowledge they exist
Acknowledging their presence with a Good Morning etc., or at least a polite smile and nod. It’s funny how swift we get off on a disrespectful foot by not acknowledging someone has entered the space we’re in, or vice versa. This simple act demonstrates that you are inherently a respectful person and thereby deserving of respect.
Asking people what they think about something being discussed is a simple way to show respect and they may surprise you with a valuable perspective. One thing that struck me when I lived in the Netherlands is how the dutch encouraged everyone to speak out, regardless of position, on important issues.
Showing interest goes more deeply than asking people for their perspective in a meeting. Showing interest gets to the core of what will enable you to practice respect for a person. What are their specific concerns, their hopes and dreams, their fears and dreads. Discovering someone has children and showing interest in how they are doing, remembering their names shows strong, much appreciated respect.
Offer to help
When you learn more about a person’s hopes and fears and can help, then offer to. Respect is how we acknowledge that we’re all in this game together and we go further … together.
Keeping your promises
Perhaps the best way to demonstrate respect is to keep the promises you make—the big ones and the small ones. Show up to your appointments on time or be in timely communication if you’re running late or can’t make it. Replace yourself if you are unable to fulfill on something you promised. Don’t leave the person you made a promise to in the lurch by forcing them to find your replacement you. “Hey, bad news, I can’t do that thing I promised, but good news, I have someone who will fill in for me.”
Respect demonstrates love
As with forgiveness, most of us learn simple platitudes about respect without any meaningful discussion about what these terms mean, why are they relevant to us living a good life, and last but not least—how to practice them.
Respect is the fundamental context to relationship, and a natural expression of love.
Once you get that we all need and affect each other, you’ll get the relevance of R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
But don’t just accept this interpretation; explore what respect means to you and please, please, please develop a practice of it that increases your capacity to respect the people you meet every day.