I keep hearing this word so frequently lately… True, I listen to Aretha Franklin a lot (like right now), so my statistics can be a little skewed :-). But it seems to me that the R word is on everyone’s lips nowadays. Usually in a negative association. As in: lack of… and usually accompanied by a lot of anger and distress. Our lives and our conversations are full of these situations where:

  • “A has shown a real lack of respect for B” as is “Lilly has disrespected me in front of the other kids – calling me a ‘baby’!” or as in “my boss had me take notes in the meeting like a trainee – me, a senior expert! – such a lack of respect!”;
  • older people (me included) complain that the “younger generation has no respect for… (you can add whatever is important to you – I usually go with: their elders, my effort, books, people who want to sleep here !!! )”;
  • young (and not so young) people complain that their friends/teachers/parents/partners don’t respect them in general – usually when they criticise them (no matter if the criticism is justified or not), want them to do something, or simply say something vague that touchy teenagers take as a hidden criticism;
  • teachers, policemen, complain that the kids/people have no respect for the rules/authority anymore;
  • wives complain that husbands don’t respect the work they do at home;
  • men feel that no one really has respect for all that they do to earn a living for the family;
  • education manuals now instruct parents to be “respectful” towards babies (the famous Francoise Dolto – “l’enfant est une personne“- the child is a person motto), their rhythm, their needs, their personalities – even if they scream their head off in a supermarket…

There is also a lot of talk about respect in politics. Various groups demand respect of whatever they are defending: women, LGBT, minorities (language, ethnic or religious), etc… respect of life, respect of choice… Respect of “rules”, of basic morals or – in the worst cases – of the legislation also seems to be quite scarce in our world, at least that is the impression that comes to you when reading any newspaper around… Never more so, than now with the immigration “crisis”. Destination countries ask immigrants to respect their values and their rules; immigrants demand respect for their culture and their religion… Respect is the word of the day. Everyone wants it, no one seems to have enough…

So what do we all want? R E S P E C T – that much is clear. But what does that actually mean? What is respect? Is respect universally due to us, is it something we are born with, is it something we learn or we earn? Is it possible to respect everyone and everything ? Can we? Should we? Does respect extend to animals and the planet, or just to other humans? Is there a guide how to be respectful? What would it look like if we got the respect we are asking for? Well, let me speculate a bit…

I believe that when we say that we want respect, we are often asking and longing for something else and we just can’t (or won’t) use the right word.

Sometimes, we say we want respect, when we want attention. Admiration on occasion, often love and very often gratitude for what we are doing for others. Sometimes we just want to be left alone – to be given freedom to do what we want…(as in “respect my privacy !) And in some cases, unfortunately, those who demand respect are bullies who actually want others to fear them.

So – you angry young men and women in the street and at home, teenagers with stupid tattoos and rebellious attitudes and old people grumbling under your breath – is it respect or is it attention or even admiration you are seeking ? Do you ask others for respect because you don’t have enough self-respect for yourselves?

To the women who keep complaining that their husband and their kids show no respect for their work in the house – is it respect or love and comfort you need?

To the worker who feels that the boss or the colleagues let/make him or her do menial tasks and don’t respect their knowledge and experience – is it respect or admiration you are looking for? Why take yourself so seriously all the time – wouldn’t it be that you don’t feel confident enough in your position to either do it because it has to be done or say no ?

To those in a position of authority complaining that the people in general don’t respect authority anymore – is it respect or blind obedience you want?

To the parents who complain that their kids don’t respect their hard work – do you want respect or do you expect gratitude for what you have been doing for them? Forget it, this is not the way it works.

So let me look at my questions again, in this light… You probably already know where I am going with this:

At work and in life in general, attention, recognition and admiration are not a right, they are earned. Sure, you can get attention by doing something stupid, but it will be brief, disappointing and respect has nothing to do with it.

If it is love and tenderness, or attention in the sentimental sense – then you have to give first and sometimes also say what you want – and risk looking ridiculous… and then hope you will be lucky… being angry that you are not receiving the love or admiration you want will not help and can actually just push people away even more…

In conclusion, respect is not fear, respect is not love, respect is not obedience, respect is not admiration. However, respect like love, is in the eye of the beholder – you can’t force someone to respect you, you can’t expect respect “just because you are who you are”. Respect comes with obligations, respect goes both ways. The fact that someone disagrees with you does not mean that they don’t respect you, in the same way that those who agree with you do not necessarily respect you. Sometimes respect is letting you do something stupid, other times, it is telling you the truth (even if you don’t like the sound of it). If you want to be worthy of respect, behave accordingly and respect others first.

And finally, remember that respect from others – no matter how noisily demanded or how freely given – can never replace a healthy dose of self-respect


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