“With all due respect” is a really great phrase that warns you an insult is coming. Coincidentally, using this phrase means the other person thinks the only respect you deserve is equivalent to the respect they give trash. Respect, in general, seems to be a word that is misunderstood. If you ask most people what it means you’re likely going to get a lot of ums and ahs because what is it really? Many people define respect as… respect. It’s like its own thing. The Google definition isn’t much better and Google is… Google (sorry, not sure how to define the program that rules most of the world): “a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.” A feeling of deep admiration? That doesn’t seem right. Why do parents need to respect their kids then: “I respect how well you fill your diaper and scream at me for changing it.” If it’s about admiration, why do we need to respect those around us? “I have to say, you’re really good at being a stranger. I really admire your ability to not be known by me.” I don’t know if I’m more angry at the poor definition by Google or sad that Google let me down. I guess I just lost all respect for it… based on its poor definition.
To me, respect is more about treating someone as an equal. It’s about acknowledging the fact that as a human you and I both have the same inherent value no matter what gender, ethnicity, appearance, wealth, or intelligence. It means saying please and thank you, excuse me, and I’m sorry including when we accidently bump into someone. It’s putting our dishes away and trying to be somewhat clean in order to not give someone else extra work. It’s sharing the sidewalk and not making someone walk around us (those people suck… and now I refuse to move for them making our approach like a game of chicken). Respect also means giving value to a position and the title it carries. For instance, a police officer is my equal as far as being a human, but I can’t pull up to a cop and say I’m giving them a ticket because they’re on their phone while driving – something I’ve seen cops do numerous times. I need to acknowledge he has been given a position that carries certain privileges just like a doctor or politician. I may not agree with them, but I need to acknowledge their position and that if I don’t do what the law tells me to do, I can face certain consequences because his role allows him that power.
As a therapist, I find when a lot of people say respect, what they actually mean is obedience: “If you respect me, you’ll do as I say.” But that’s not respect. Respect doesn’t mean being submissive or even compliant. I’ve heard managers complain about employees not respecting them, but it’s usually more about them not being given absolute control without any question or hesitation. But that’s not respect. Even if we have a position with privileges, we need to treat people with value and care because they’re human just like us – that, and if they’re really angry at us, they can hurt us. Respect, in many circumstances, means we’re allowed to offer different opinions or question in a nice way. A bad time to do that is in an emergency type situation: “You’re saying to stop drop and roll, but I don’t want to get dirty. What if I flap my arms around making water sounds with my mouth?” I’ve heard too many people get angry at their partner for offering alternative ideas: “They don’t respect my opinion.” (me) “Actually, offering another opinion shows they heard your idea and they care enough about you to offer another option. If anyone is showing disrespect, it’s you for getting angry at them for not being blindly obedient.” There are many times my wife questioned my idea and it helped me better think through what I was doing. Her feeling safe enough to question me and my being able to hear her idea and process it means we had shared respect. If she just went along with whatever I said, even if it seemed like a bad idea for her, that would mean she was lazy or scared of me – neither option is good.
I once talked with a parent who was angry their children didn’t just do what they wanted: “They need to respect me!” Every child should respect their parent, but that doesn’t mean blind obedience. When I asked what the difference was between respect and obedience, they had no idea, which made sense because they had blurred these two different things together. So many times people get angry because they can’t handle being questioned when we should be confident enough with ourselves that we can accept nice questioning as an opportunity to better flush out our own thoughts and ideas.
People need to be like Play-Doh and not bricks. Bricks are hard and non-malleable, which makes them great for buildings, but they can hurt. They can also chip and break if anything comes at them too hard. Play-Doh is a terrible choice for an exterior wall, but it’s what people should be with each other because like Play-Doh, people need to be great for adapting to what it’s given. It bends and folds around without any chance of breaking, but it’s still it’s own substance. Being rigid and stubborn just adds to hurt.
This week may you be more like Play-Doh as you adapt to what’s thrown at you and not feel that questions are a sign of disrespect.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people (like me)