Respect is so complicated and controversial it’s easy to give up on. It’s actually very simple and powerful. Respect is recognizing our shared existence. It’s not putting others down or putting them up on pedestals. Giving respect to others doesn’t mean you like them or approve of them or even trust them. It’s simply honoring our common humanity and our relationship to the environment.
I was on a busy 5 lane section of Route 66 when a man walked across the highway. He didn’t look for an opening. He just walked into traffic. We all stopped so that he could get across safely. No one hit him even though he was doing the wrong thing. Most of the drivers were probably angry but we all gave him respect because of our relationship to him on the road.
Respect is a goal. You start by giving others respect. When you get angry or hurt you step back to remember your goal to respect others. No one can achieve respect. There is always one more person to reach out to, one more hard truth to learn, and one more pause to take so that you can share your concerns confidently without putting others down.
You don’t need to be perfect but if you can keep raising your level of respect up a notch and reducing your level of cruelty down, one notch at a time you can make a difference in your relationships and in our world…
Respect is a conversation. It is the core value we need to share this planet. We don’t need to agree on the definition of respect. Talking about it is a form of respect. It can challenge us to be more respectful. It can help us find ways to be respectful when we are feeling mad or hurt.
- What is your definition of respect?
- How do you practice it?
- Does that apply to all people or just some?
- How do you treat people you don’t approve of?
For me, respect is giving people space to meet their needs. It grows out of the fact that all people need food, clothing, shelter, safety, and dignity to thrive. I can’t meet all of those needs. I may not even agree with what another thinks they need to feel safe but I can give them space to do what they need to do. I can also create safety and dignity for my soul without ridiculing or injuring others. I practice respect with three rules.
- Speak up for yourself without putting others down.
- Listen to disagreements.
- Look for win/win solutions.
Respect is a practice. It’s easy to be respectful when you feel respected. It takes courage to give respect to others when they’ve made mistakes or broken your trust. It’s hard to be respectful when you’ve been attacked or accused. When things aren’t going well you have every reason to ridicule and fight back. That is when it is most important to remember respect. When things aren’t going well the challenge and practice of respect is to be thoughtful.
- How can we create safety while reducing the need to hurt others?
- When is silence respectful and when does it magnify cruelty?
- How can I stand up for myself without being mean?
There’s nothing easy about this work. It demands a different way of thinking about authenticity and conflict. The more you practice respect, the more prepared you will be to handle tough situations. The more you give respect to others, the harder it will be to accept less for yourself. The more you respect yourself the more comfortable you will become with your own authenticity and the easier it becomes to give respect to others. Remember, talk about, and practice respect for yourself and for our world.
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