You respect others when you recognize and sincerely acknowledge their humanity, worth, and significance. Each of us deserve respect simply because of our humanity.
- Acknowledging the dignity of another.
- Valuing Humanity.
- Acknowledgement of a person's high stature.
- Showing approval of another’s action or being.
- Acknowledging the existence, significance, and humanity of another.
- Expressing your true values and authentic self.
- Recognizing your commonality and connection to another.
The terms admiration, appreciation, awe, honor, and esteem are approximate synonyms for respect. The word respect originates from the Latin re- meaning “again” (as in repeat) and specere, meaning “to look” (as in spectator). These root words taken together mean “to look again”, or “to notice with attention”. Overlooking an opportunity to show respect is often considered a slight. The opposite of respect is disrespect and violence. If someone considers our disrespect seriously, we may insult or humiliate them.
Respect is action. We demonstrate our respect for others by giving them authentic positive attention, listening with positive attention, acknowledging them as fellow human beings, and providing appropriate recognition. Avoiding, withholding, or manipulating these responses are signs of disrespect. Any form of insult or humiliation is disrespectful.
Disrespect is the precursor to hate. Heed the warning. Reevaluate the evidence, avoid the distortions, correct the errors in reasoning, and reject the temptation to dismiss the other.
Sometimes respect is inaction. Listening, hearing, comprehending, understanding, and believing are often more respectful than speaking, debating, denying, explaining, interrupting, and dismissing. Calm, patience, serenity, order and a certain stillness may encourage a deeper bond than chaos, hurry, and disorder. Retreating to rest and relax rather than advancing; silence instead of constant chatter, requesting instead of nagging; considering and contemplating rather than rushing to decide or judge, and quality rather than quantity can all enhance a meaningful relationship. Subtlety, nuance, and accuracy demonstrate more respect than superficial and boisterous hype. Choose presence instead of transience and being instead of doing. Choosing a hospice instead of medical heroics may be the final and ultimate act of respect.
Demonstrating due respect is often the basis for establishing rules of etiquette. Some polite customs, however, emphasize asymmetry rather than symmetry in a relationship. These customs act to preserve the existing status hierarchy and make it more difficult to question authority and speak truth to power.
Respect and Symmetry
Respect is closely related to symmetry in a relationship. Formal and informal hierarchies are ubiquitous in organized societies. The boss manages the workers, adults discipline children, teachers instruct students, and doctors treat patients. Respect is commonly seen as deference to status within the recognized hierarchy. The worker is expected to show respect to the boss and the patient is expected to show respect to the doctor. A more powerful and more meaningful respect occurs, however, when the boss respects the worker and the doctor respects the patient. Respect is recognizing this human connection. Since power establishes a asymmetrical relationship, demonstrating respect through a symmetrical relationship is the voluntary sharing of power. It acknowledges that the bonds of humanity are more important that the trappings of power and the formality of a hierarchy. Respectful relationships are mutual and reciprocal. Respect often works against the grain of bureaucracy, providing a partial antidote to its frustrating impersonalization.
Although genuinely respecting yourself is sometimes more difficult than respecting others, we all deserve to respect ourselves. We each deserve to acknowledge our own dignity. Recognizing our own intrinsic worth frees us from the expectations and judgments of others. It is a source of deep inner peace, strength, and autonomy. Status is not image and self-respect is certainly not gained by winning the praise of others and accumulating awards and other status symbols. Self-respect begins at birth and is sustained and increased by living an authentic and honorable life.
Be careful to distinguish dissent—expressing disagreement with an idea, decision, or action—from disrespect—denying the dignity of a person. Dissent is often helpful and constructive. Better decisions are made by considering a variety of viewpoints. Dissent is often required to introduce valid alternative viewpoints. Unfortunately dissent is often confused with disrespect. For example if you disagree with views expressed by a powerful (or pretentious) person, they may react by scolding you for attacking them. The message: “How dare you disagree with me” is often sent one way or another. This is a common and manipulative ploy that combines the fallacy of an ad hominem attack with the fallacy of ad vericundium. Do not tolerate this manipulation; learn to identify it and defend against it. Respond by saying: “Let's not confuse dissent with disrespect here. I can disagree with your statements and still respect you as a person. That is what I have done. I deserve similar respect from you. Let's continue to discuss the issues at hand without attacking each other. . . Perhaps it is helpful to review the evidence supporting various points of view. . . ” Have the courage to speak truth to power. Work toward a dialogue, rather than acquiescing to a more power-based mode of communication.
Do not tolerate disrespect. Respect yourself, as described above. Respect your spouse, family members, friends, and co-workers. Demonstrate your respect for them in every interaction. Dissent whenever it is helpful, but never show or tolerate disrespect, either publically or privately. Take quick and effective action to identify and respectfully express your intolerance of disrespect whenever it arises in groups, gatherings, or meetings you are a part of. Respond by saying: “That was disrespectful because . . . We all deserve to be respected and there is no excuse for disrespect. If you disagree, then express you dissent. Find a constructive resolution of the conflict. If you have relationship issues to resolve, then participate in a constructive dialogue to resolve them. I do not tolerate disrespect, there is no reason for it, it is destructive, don't do it.” Do not gloat or become self-righteous, disrespectful, sarcastic, spiteful, or vengeful when expressing your intolerance. This is not easy, but is extremely valuable. Also, speak up to defend any scapegoat that may be emerging. Describe the fallacy in blaming a single person for the difficulties of the group.
Respect and Religion
Too often religious beliefs are misused as an excuse to disrespect others. What begins as demonstrations of faith and evangelizing can evolve into intolerance and escalate into hatred and tragic violence. Fortunately the Decalogue of Assisi for Peace was on adopted February 24, 2002 by 200 leaders of the world’s major religions. This important declaration recognizes that humanity must choose love over hatred. The Decalogue clearly states that violence and terrorism are incompatible with the authentic spirit of religion. These religious leaders also commit themselves to educating people in mutual respect and esteem. As you practice your own religion, join these leaders as they pledge to keep compassion as their highest priority.
- “Where respect says ‘Don't hurt’, responsibility says ‘Do help’.” ~ Thomas Lickona
- “The key to a positive No is respect.” ~ William Ury
- “You get respect when you give it; respect breeds respect”
- “Respect is the cheapest concession you can give the other.” ~ William Ury.
- “Liberty finally exists when the recognition I give you does not subtract something from myself.”~ Richard Sennett
- “Self-respect has little to do with the outer world's evaluation of us but is about a separate peace, a private reconciliation” ~ Joan Didion
The Cognitive Structure of Emotions, by Andrew Ortony, Gerald L. Clore, Allan Collins
The Power of a Positive No: How to Say No and Still Get to Yes, by William Ury
Respect: An Exploration, by Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot