“I’ve lost all respect for them”, is not an uncommon phrase found in many conversations. It usually follows a moment when we believe we have been wronged, cheated or insulted. Sometimes, if we believe someone else has been wronged, we withdraw our respect from the perpetrator on their behalf! Even though way may never have met them! And yet, as we disrespect the disrespectful we often don’t realise we are simply adding to the sum of disrespectfulness in the world!
It seems, in many areas of society, we are witnessing the rapid disappearance of respect. Each week brings more stories of animosity and conflict between couples, family members, neighbours, work colleagues, politicians and in just about every other area of society. Disrespectful behaviour has almost become the norm in some communities, in some schools and in some institutions. In sport and education ‘respect campaigns’ have sprung up in an attempt to heal fractured relationships and a deteriorating culture. As with so many ‘values’ we only start to value what we realise we are losing or have lost. The more respect disappears the more we start to see it’s crucial role in maintaining the coherence of both family and community.
But why do we stop respecting someone. Why is it that we seem to lose our ability to give respect to another so quickly? Why do we create ‘the other’ in such a negative light within our consciousness? Before we can answer such questions we probably need to clarify the idea, the concept, the meaning of respect itself.
So what is respect exactly?
Respect is a verb mistaken for a noun. It is something that we do more than something static that we give and receive. It’s not a thing! But it’s hard not to talk of it as a ‘thing’, as a noun. It’s in the nature of language to try to capture it! To respect another is to acknowledge and affirm the goodness and worth of the other. It is ‘to value’ the other within the dynamic exchanges of the relationship.
Prior to any visible or audible demonstration, respect is how we hold someone within the ‘light of our consciousness’. It is how we create ‘the other’, which means ‘perceive’ the other. Our respect will be defined by the quality of the energy with which we surround the other in our mind, long before our words and behaviours express it visibly. It is only possible within a non-judgmental attitude.
Unconditional Regard and Respect
It’s always refreshing and somehow uplifting to meet ‘someone’ who never loses his or her respect for others. Regardless of the past actions of ‘the other person’ or the history of the relationship, it’s as if it doesn’t matter what the other person says or does, that ‘someone’ never loses respect for that person. They can still see the inherent good and the worthiness of the individual, regardless of any mistakes made, crimes committed or insults thrown. They can even see beyond what seems to be dark personality traits to a place within the other that is prior to personality, and is without any distortion. Not exactly something that most of us are taught!
They remind us that not only is it possible to separate the individual from their behaviour i.e. ‘what they are’ from ‘what they do’ (or have done), but how the consistent maintenance of respect can influence and empower the other to change their ways. There are now numerous examples of hardened criminals who have reformed their violent and disrespectful behaviours after spending time with someone who has shown them unconditional regard. Antisocial youths respond in the same way in the sustained company of a mentor who gives them complete and consistent unconditional respect and regard. In one particular penitentiary (Dade County, Miami), over ten years ago, the breakout rate, levels of conflict and drug abuse were the highest of all penitentiaries in the US. In came a new Governor who sent all prison staff on ‘customer service’ training. When they returned the Governor asked them to treat the prisoners as if they were customers! Two years later the penitentiary had the lowest break out, lowest conflict levels and drug abuse rates. All down to one idea, one word, one shift in perception, that lead to a change in attitude. Respect. Instead of seeing the prisoners in a negative light based on their attitudes or histories, they began to acknowledge and affirm the innate dignity and worth of the human being. It transformed the culture of an institution.
Disrespect as Entertainment
What we seldom notice is what happens within us the moment we create a negative judgement of another. It’s a form of attack.We are not aware that it’s not them that is sabotaging our capacity to extend respect, it’s our attack, in the form of our judgment, that sabotages our ability to respect them, to value them.
The moment we blame, complain or criticise another it is a sign we have temporarily destroyed our ability to be respectful. It means we are no longer able to see and affirm their innate goodness and inherent worth. We no longer esteem them as a person. Unfortunately this is precisely the ethos and the culture that is encouraged by our entertainment industries. The underlying message of many movies and video games is: ‘they’ are not worthy of respect; ‘they’ have wronged me so revenge is necessary; ‘they’ are behaving badly so punishment is essential; ‘they’ need to fear me more so that they will respect me more.
In one recent national newspaper front page, a well-known singer suffering from a drug addiction was headlined as ‘worthy of our scorn’. In some ways it seems to encapsulate a recent trend in our world where we look first for the slightest misdemeanour within another’s life in order to justify our judgmental attack and consequent withdrawal of respect for them.
Respect and Love
Once upon a time, probably in more innocent times, being respectful seemed to have been a natural ability that we all possessed. Today, it can seem like respecting others has become more like ‘hard work’, and in many contexts, just not the thing to do! When respect ceases to be the ‘natural currency of our relationships’, in any society or community, then the destination of that society does not look good.
Perhaps the attitude of disrespect begins when the teenager awakens to the truth and reality of their independence. They start to answer back and do increasingly individualistic and unconventional things. That’s the moment when parents are no longer ‘getting their way’. They believe they are starting to lose the control, which they don’t realize they didn’t have in the first place! They become objecting, judgmental, indignant, resentful, grumpy parents. In their own minds they begin to cast a negative light around the blossoming teenager and start to withdraw their respect. They may even reach a point when they say, “We love him, but we just don’t respect him”. Which of course is both a contradiction and impossible. If there is no respect there can be no love, and vice versa. In the process however, the teenager is learning ‘how to disrespect’ as they see it brilliantly role-modelled by the parent!
Little do most parents realize that in ‘trying to control’ the child over many years, they were not respecting the human being that was growing in their midst! They were not teaching the child, by example, the accurate meaning of respect.
The employee makes a couple of mistakes and the manager, who is afraid that it may reflect badly on him or her, starts to blame the employee and, as they do, they are withdrawing their respect from the relationship, therefore sabotaging the relationship. The relationship then easily descends into conflict, spreads to others, and the workplace becomes an unhappy place. Sound familiar?
Not Doing What I Want!
There are a number of factors in any relationship that will ensure respect will not appear very often or disappear altogether. Not only do we lose sight of the inherent dignity and worth of the other, our withdrawal of respect, and its replacement with animosity, simply means that we have decided that ‘they’ are not saying, doing or being exactly what we want them to say, do or be! And we are taking it personally. The moment we use prescriptive language, either in our thoughts or in our words towards another, it usually means we are not accepting them as they are. That means we are not able to be respectful. Accepting others exactly as we find them seems to be a necessary pre-requisite to the ability to extend respect, to be respect full!
So why exactly is respect becoming an endangered species on planet relationship? Why is it often referred to as the first thing to go and last thing to come back? There are number of illusions that have arisen during the last few decades that get in the way of both our understanding of respect and our ability to ‘live it’.
“If he fears me he will respect me”
It starts in the playground and then it escalates all the way up into international conflict. The bully bullies and induces fear. The fear is called respect. The bully uses their ability to induce fear in another in order to get from the other what they mistakenly believe is respect. But it’s not respect it’s fear. The bullied will say they respect someone when what they really mean is they fear someone. And so it is that the meanings of fear and respect become tangled and the capacity to extend real respect is lost. This is a mindset that afflicts even the most intelligent, as it escalates all the way up to the international conflicts we see in the world today.
“You just lost my respect”
It sometimes takes the smallest things for people to withdraw their respect for another. Coming late to a meeting, not fulfilling a promise, telling a lie, giving someone else an opportunity. All such moments can trigger resentment. And where there is resentment, however subtle, even if it’s just held at a mental level, it will be impossible to see the goodness and worth of the other, so there cannot be respect.
“People need to earn my respect”
It’s one of the most popular mantras of modern society, “Respect has to be earned”. But when challenged with the question, “What must a person do to earn your respect”, it seems very few know what to answer, or they muddle an answer around something like, “Be honest or be reliable or do what they say, or do what ‘I say’!”. But it tends to be a grey area. Often we just parrot this idea of ‘my respect has to be earned’ as it seems to give us some power of dispensation over the other. Only the enlightened soul has realized that it’s usually the other way round. Respect is what forms the foundation of any relationship and if it’s not there then there is, in effect, no relationship. The leader never waits to be respected they are always in the mode of giving, extending, their respect for all others at all times. The authentic leader is never disrespectful!
So why is it so easy, in fact much easier to be disrespectful, than it is to be respectful? Why do we blind ourselves to the other’s value? Much of it is do with judging others against the standards that we have been taught to expect from others. If our expectations are not met, if people do not do and be according to our standards/expectations/desires (what we believe they ‘should’ do) then we start to judge and criticise, which are forms of attack. And you cannot give respect to another as long as you are attacking them in any way. This is exacerbated by the belief that others are responsible for what we feel. Whenever we believe someone has let us down we blame them for our feelings of hurt. In that moment we cease to be capable of respecting them. Little do we realise they did not make us ‘feel hurt’, we did that all on our own!
All of this is not helped by an entertainment industry, which bases much of its creativity in the form of movies, games and shows about people being disrespectful to other people. Disrespect is glamorized and glorified, absorbed daily from a very young age, and before we know it we are all colluding to shape and build a society which has, at it’s heart, the currency of disrespect. Eventually, if this trend lasts long enough, there will probably be people who don’t know how to be respectful at all. They simply won’t know what respect is. Which is why, in some parts of some communities, even today, respect has almost become extinct.
But how can we respect someone who has committed a crime against our self or society? How can we respect someone who is violent? How can we respect someone who cheats or steals? Two simple answers. First, don’t take it personally! But that’s not so easy when life and relationships are, by definition, personal! Second, look behind and prior to the behaviour and see the being that is innately good! Also not so easy as we tend to learn (be conditioned) to see people in black and white terms i.e. good or bad according to our feelings.
When children make mistakes, when they act against the standards of the community they find themselves in, we do not withdraw our respect. We maintain our respect for them as we understand, we forgive, we teach and we coach them. We nurture their growth into the world. All because we recognise their innocence, perhaps their ignorance and perhaps their naivete. Perhaps all three! So why is it so different when it comes to our relationships with ‘big people’? If they are violent, insulting or acting in disrespectful ways, are they not also in a state of ignorance and naivete? Have they not simply lost their awareness of how to establish and maintain a harmonious connection in their relationships? Have they not forgotten their ability to respect others and become ignorant of the mindset of respectfulness? Perhaps they never really learned how to be respectful? Whether they have forgotten, or never learned, can we blame them, criticise them, attack them mentally and emotionally, and still maintain our own capacity to respect others?
Do you Respect your SELF?
In most exchanges of disrespect the underlying issue is not actually ‘the other’. When we hear our self think or say, “I’ve lost all respect for them”, it’s really code for ‘my self-respect has gone’. Only when our self-respect is solid and stable can we connect with others and the world and NOT be dependent on others attitude and behaviours, others respectfulness, for our sense of self. Only then are we able to NOT take anything personally. Only then are we able to recognise and understand that the violence or disobedience of ‘the other’ is just a sign that they have also lost their self-respect. And only then can we maintain our vision of their inherent worth and goodness as a human being, prior to any violations of the relationship!
But will have a decision to make for our self. Are people born innately good and learn to be… naughty? Or are some born with badness built in? Your answer will affect your capacity to give respect to all others.
Throughout history respect has become embodied in many symbolic forms. In some cultures we are taught to symbolise our respect with a gift, given as soon as we meet. In other cultures it’s customary to bow, or to salute if you’re in the military, or if you are a child then to listen attentively to the all-knowing font of wisdom that is the parent! We start a letter with ‘dear’, a mark of respect. And in some countries titles are bestowed upon those perceived to be worthy of an even greater respect than the rest.
But they are all empty gestures if our own self-respect is not intact. As soon as we lose respect for our self, which really means as soon as we lose our awareness that we are a source of love and kindness in this world, then our neediness to be recognised and respected by others will kick in. That guarantees moments of animosity and resentment when we don’t receive that which we want and often demand from others. Our disrespect may then grow over time into some form of violence. All forms if violence in the world today, when closely examined, will have this absence of self-respect and the neediness that comes with it, at their root.
That may be why we are all responsible for one thing and one thing only. To free our self from needing, wanting, desiring and craving the respect of others. Only then perhaps, will we feel ‘consistently’ OK within our self, and therefore strong enough create the other in a bright light within our consciousness, regardless of how darkly they may have behaved. The healing effect of restoring our self-respect could change the world!
Question: Who is the person in your life you currently find the hardest to respect?
Reflection: What is the exact nature of the judgement/criticism that you are ‘creating’ around them or towards them that is in the way of your being able to accept and respect them?
Action: Separate the person from their behaviour and practice seeing the innate goodness within them. When you meet them consciously demonstrate your respect for them. Watch the effect it has on you and on the relationship.
by Mike George