“If we lose love and self respect for each other, this is how we finally die.”
- Maya Angelou
I am one of the most respected people I know, and I don’t say this to be conceited. I actually realized this years ago during a family trip. My aunt got really drunk and late into the night she was yelling and cussing everyone out. Her older sisters, her brother, her best friend, and even her own daughter. We learned that she had had a lot to drink, which isn’t an excuse for her behavior, but did explain why she was more belligerent than I’d ever seen her. What amazed me though was that as she took turns cussing everyone in sight, she’d turn to me and say nothing. Even in her most lost state of mind, she couldn’t disrespect me.
I have the respect of everyone in my family, either because of who they are or because of how they see me. My friends respect me, and are even conscious to not cuss a lot around me or are mindful or other things I might be uncomfortable with. I even garnered the respect (not sure if it was out of fear or something else quite honestly) of a manager who constantly belittled my co-workers and who many found difficult to work with. I’ve been able to gain the respect of so many people for two reasons: because of how much I respect myself, and how much I respect others.
Philosopher Immanuel Kant’s ethical theory about respect claims “that all persons are owed respect just because they are persons, that is, free rational beings.” He defines respect as “the acknowledgment in attitude and conduct of the dignity of persons as ends in themselves.” Basically, every human being has dignity and that dignity should be acknowledged in the way you treat them.
Since I was a child, my mother put the fear of heaven, earth, and hell in me (while managing to not be religious). In other words, she garnered my respect for her by fear. I was terrified of the woman, but that meant I hardly ever disobeyed her. Yet, aside from respecting her, she also instilled in me that I had to treat everyone with respect no matter what. It didn’t matter who they were. Aunts and uncles – respect them. Grandparents – respect them. Gangsters my parents were friends with – respect them. People who had lied, cheated, stole, and probably much worse – respect them. And I always did because I was a child and they were adults. That was the only reason I needed.
However, I think it was my dad who taught me something deeper about respect without ever saying it in words. Those who mistreat and disrespect you – respect them. Whenever someone disrespected my dad, he never stooped down to their level. He simply walked away. This way he respected himself and didn't disrespect the other person.
When trying to define what respect is and how it is shown, it’s probably easier to explain the opposite. The University of Iowa has a very nice and neat definition of disrespect – “Behavior that is rude, unpleasant, inappropriate, and unprofessional. Behavior that causes hurt feelings and distresses, disturbs, and/or offends others.” They also provide a nice chart just to be clear about the spectrum of disrespect. And if anyone out there is confused about what it looks like to be respectful, simply do the opposite of everything on the spectrum and you will become a world-class respectful citizen.
As for me, I may have learned the importance of respect from my parents, but I’ve learned to cultivate it in different ways throughout my life. Here are the rules I live by in the way I treat others:
- Never belittle or put anyone down for anything
- Don’t get involved in gossip or the spreading of negative words
- Always look for a kind thing to say about everyone, particularly those I don’t like
- Listen with interest
- Take an interest in others by asking how they are doing
- Be honest, but not cruel
- Look out for others
- When someone is mistreating me, either walk away or be nice to them anyway
- Be kind and gentle when others need you to be
I’m sure if any of my close friends read this list, they’d probably scoff at it. I constantly make fun of my roommate, poking fun at her weight, her intelligence (or lack thereof), her inability to cook anything decent. I’m just not nice to the woman. However, and I’m sure she knows this, I’m never cruel and there’s a difference. I would never poke fun at someone who’s genuinely sensitive about any of those things because that would be belittling. My roommate, however, has skin as thick as steal, which is why it’s so fun to try to scrape away at the barrier knowing I could never succeed to pop that big head of hers.
What respecting others all comes down to is how Kant explained it – treat everyone as if they have inherent dignity. Focus on being caring, bringing others up, and finding good wherever you can. This isn’t an easy task, especially when you feel disrespected by someone else. I’m not perfect at it. But at the least, I try to never be disrespectful to someone who is being disrespectful to me, because I respect myself.
Having self-respect is arguably a lot harder than respecting others. It’s hard to have self-respect if your self-esteem is low, or you’re used to be disrespected your whole life, or because you don’t have solid boundaries or know what they are.
The way I view self-respect is knowing exactly how I deserve to be treated and making sure others treat me that way. Both these tasks can be daunting in different ways. How do I know what I deserve? Well, the easy answer is who in my life has treated me and respected me the most? A few people come to mind, and one is of course my dad, but there have been lots of others. I knew I was being treated well when my values, personal opinions, and beliefs were listened to and acknowledged. When I was being asked permission for something. When my physical boundaries weren’t being pushed. These are some of the ways others have showed me respect, so it’s the way I believe I deserve to be treated.
Sadly, I think many people instead of asking, “what’s the best I’ve ever been treated,” will ask, “what’s the worst treatment I can handle,” and then that’s what they accept.
Throughout my life, I’ve picked and chosen the best ways those who cared about me have showed me respect and I’ve set that as my standard for how I deserve to be respected. After I knew what that list consisted of, the next step in respecting myself is to not ever let anyone disrespect me. This can be very hard, and I think it’s easy to go the wrong way with this. If someone is rude, it’s easy to be rude back. If someone does something shady to me, it’s easy to see them as a shady person, thus less worthy of my respect. And so on.
When someone disrespects me, I have to step back and analyze how to proceed. Is this a situation I can walk away from? If so, then I do. If not, then what is the best way to move forward? For one, I have to make sure to never respond in the same way. I cannot be disrespectful back, because that automatically lowers the amount of respectfulness others think I deserve. Having self-respect means being the bigger person. Again, am I perfect at this? No, I’m human at this. But it’s what I try to do.
If I can’t walk away, and once I’ve determined to not be disrespectful, there’s only one thing I can do – confront in a non-aggressive way and communicate my standards. To confront without aggression for me often begins with asking a question of the other person about why they treated me a certain way, and hearing them out. The key is to listen without defensiveness, because it’s rare that people are jerks just to be jerks. They are either being a jerk to you because they think you’ve done something to deserve it, or because they are just jerky people. If it is the latter, this is a walk away moment. If it’s the first thing, you have to hear them out. After I’ve listened, I explain what my standards are for how I deserve to be treated.
Here’s an example of how this once played out. I had a manager who many of my co-workers disliked with good reason. He was always looking for things to criticize, while hardly giving praise or encouragement. He micro-managed everyone and made us feel like we couldn’t do our job, despite the fact that I work with a lot of more than capable people. Every mistake was blown out of proportion while our small accomplishments were hardly recognized. However, he was my manager, and since that fear of heaven, earth, and hell that my mother instilled me was still there, that meant I had to be respect him because he was an authority figure.
Does it mean I never badmouthed him behind his back? No, I broke my rule on that one a few times. I really didn’t like this guy. However, when it was time for our yearly evaluations, he told me, as he told many others, that he wanted to have his own restaurant one day, so he would like any feedback we had for him. Because he asked for it, I took him on his word, also knowing that if he did listen to what I had to say, it would save a lot of other people a lot of disrespect from him.
I didn’t give him any feedback when he asked for it. Instead, I did it on a day I felt disrespected. I’m a server, and though I believe I’m very good at my job, again no one’s perfect. A customer complained to him once about something small. Everyone gets customer’s complaints and the manager’s each treat them differently. If the manager knows you’re a good server, they’ll tell us something small about it, but make sure we know that they know we’re good at what we do. They understand off days happens. Not so with this manager. I particularly felt irked by him, because I didn’t think they actually went up him to complain about something so small. He was going around checking on tables, which was fine, and then he discovered the complaint. I didn’t appreciate that he went looking for a reason to tell me something. And it wasn’t even the quality of my service that was in question, which I would’ve understood. I had made a mistake and he decided to take me outside to sit me down and talk about it.
So, I listened to him go on and on about my mistake, and guest experience, and so on. I didn’t talk back. I didn’t give him attitude or roll my eyes. I even waited to give him the opportunity to do what most of the other managers do, which is point out something positive about my service. But he didn’t. So, when he was done lecturing me and ready to leave, I asked him if I could give him some feedback too, because he had asked for it before. He happily agreed. I proceeded to tell him how he made many of us feel stressed out by his micro-managing and that he didn’t acknowledge that he has plenty of good workers. I told him, basically, everything I thought he should know in as a nice and honest a way as I could. He got defensive at times, and I even explained I wasn’t trying to be rude or disrespectful and there was no need for defensiveness. He was the one who had extended this invitation for feedback.
The result? He never once criticized me again after that day, even when I continued to make mistakes as we all do. He still criticized the heck out of everyone else though. Still, I felt like it was an accomplishment to get the manager who treated most everyone poorly to treat me differently.
In the Forbes article, “How to Be Respectful: 4 Essential Rules,” the first rule is the “golden rule,” which is “treat others how you want to be treated.” This one little rule really sums up everything. Respect others and respect yourself. It falls in line with what Jesus says is the second greatest commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (NIV Mark 12:31). To do this, simply be honest and caring with others, and be assertive and communicative of your own standards. Once you know how to respect others and yourself, and you let others know how to respect you, you might be surprised to find that most people will.
*originally published on j.ilianaserna.wordpress.com
How to Be Respectful: 4 Essential Rules
Standard Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Respect
University of Iowa: Disrespect