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To respect a person is not possible without knowing him; care and responsibility would be blind if they were not guided by knowledge. Erich Fromm
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When we show our respect for other living things, they respond with respect for us. - Arapaho Proverb
|What Respect Is
On a practical level respect includes taking someone's feelings, needs, thoughts, ideas, wishes and preferences into consideration. It means taking all of these seriously and giving them worth and value. In fact, giving someone respect seems similar to valuing them and their thoughts, feelings, etc. It also includes acknowledging them, listening to them, being truthful with them, and accepting their individuality and idiosyncrasies.
Respect can be shown through behavior and it can also be felt. We can act in ways which are considered respectful, yet we can also feel respect for someone and feel respected by someone. Because it is possible to act in ways that do not reflect how we really feel, the feeling of respect is more important than the behavior without the feeling. When the feeling is there, the behavior will naturally follow.
It is Important
Going back in time, respect played an important role in survival. If we think of a small tribe wandering in the desert we can imagine that a person not respected by anyone could be left behind and die. Such a person was considered to have no worth, no importance, no value to the group. This, I believe is the foundation of our psychological need to feel respected.
Nowadays it seems much more possible to survive without being respected. Someone could, for example, inherit a large sum of money, have many servants and employees and have salesmen constantly calling on him and catering to him, yet not be respected in the least. Someone could also make a lot of money through having a particular talent which is valued, such as being able to dunk a basketball yet not really be respected, perhaps because of the way he treats others.
Still, there is a value to respect which money can't buy. Though someone's life might not depend on it, there are times, many times in fact, when another person has the chance to make a personal decision - a judgment call. When that person feels sincere respect for someone else, they will make a different decision than if they feel no respect, even if they have customarily shown a false, pseudo-respect to the person.
We can all sense whether we are respected or not. This holds true for those with money and power as well. Moreover, it is quite possible that those who pursue money and power are actually trying to gain a type of respect that they never have truly felt.
When we are respected we gain the voluntary cooperation of people. We don't have to use as much of our energy and resources trying to get our needs met. When people respect one another there are fewer conflicts. In summary, it is for both evolutionary and practical reasons that respect is important, and also why we simply feel better when we are respected.
Respect Comes From
Real respect is something that is earned. One earns another's respect by voluntarily doing the things mentioned above, such as taking that person's feelings, needs and thoughts into consideration.
Respect seems to be like a boomerang in the sense that you must send it out before it will come back to you. Respect cannot be demanded or forced, though sometimes people mistakenly believe that it can, as I discuss below.
Since a baby has no concept of respect, and feels only its own needs when born, the only successful way to teach a child what respect is, is to earn the respect of the child as they slowly grow into a thinking human being.
The way this is done is first of all by attending to the child's natural needs, such as to be fed and nurtured. As the child grows, his needs change. He has increasingly sophisticated psychological needs. He begins to express his own views, his own preferences, and he has an increasing need for freedom, autonomy and independence. This is when the adults in his life can treat him with increasing respect and thereby earn his respect in return.
It doesn't make sense to think of respecting a baby in the same way that we say we respect an adult. Yet on some level the two concepts are similar. This similarity has to do with our voluntarily helping that person with their needs. In either case, we must first accept the needs. For example, if a baby needs to be fed at three in the morning we don't do it begrudgingly if we respect his natural needs; we simply accept that the infant has a natural need to eat at that particular moment. Likewise, if an adolescent or an adult needs to talk, we accept this need and we show respect by listening voluntarily.
Below are more specific ways to show and earn respect, particularly to an older child, adolescent or adult.
and Earning Respect
Respecting someone means respecting their feelings and their survival needs. Here are ways to show respect for someone's feelings:
For this process to work efficiently several things are required. For example:
If respecting someone means respecting their feelings and their survival needs, then if a person does not respect your feelings, they don't respect you. If those in positions of power and authority do not respect your needs and feelings, they will not earn your respect.
Here are some specific ways to show respect:
Remember that the most effective way of finding out how well your efforts are working is to simply ask, "On a scale of 0-10, how much do you feel respected by me?" If you have created a safe environment, you are likely to get an honest answer. Then if it is lower than 10, you can ask, "What would help you feel more respected?" Then you have the specific information you need to improve your 'rating.' Most people are more than willing to express themselves when asked such a question. And the answers are typically articulate, and often surprising.
A simple way to measure respect is to use the 0-10 scale suggested above. You can ask others, "On a scale of 0-10, how much do you feel respected by ____?" Such a clear, direct question has provided me with invaluable information since I started asking it several years ago. Here are some more questions to ponder:
I believe respect is too important to go unmeasured in society. We track many other numbers, but so far, we don't track respect. I believe doing so would be a step in the right direction.
It seems that authority has two basic sources: fear and respect. On the continuum below, we can see that the total source of a person's authority could be thought of as equal to the combination of how much they are feared plus how much they are respected.
Source of Authority
For example, in a dysfunctional family a child might fear their parents 8 and respect them 2, for a total of 10. In a healthier family the authority base might be more like Fear 1, Respect 9, again for a total of 10. (See small sample study)
Those in positions of authority often expect and try to demand that those beneath them show 'respect.' But if they have not first earned respect by showing it (which is done by respecting the other person's feelings and needs), they may find that their power is actually based on fear. Once a person no longer fears such an authority figure, then the authority figure's power base quickly disappears out from under them, often leaving them feeling frustrated, powerless, confused and resentful.
A New York City gang member was asked why he carried a gun. He replied: "Before I had this gun, I didn't get no respect. Now I do."
Similarly, teachers and parents often believe that if a child obeys them, or says "Yes, Sir/ No, Sir," it means the child respects them. Several teachers have told me they felt more respected when there was more 'discipline' in the classrooms. When I probed deeper, without fail they made it clear that they were talking about a time when there was more use of corporal punishment in school, and thus more fear of physical pain for disobedience.
There is a danger in mislabeling fear as respect. To use an analogy, consider what would happen if two jars in the medicine cabinet were mislabeled. What if poison ivy lotion were labeled as cough syrup, or chlorine as contact lens cleaner?
Here are some comparisons between fear and respect:
To confuse the two creates serious problems for society.
See also this other example of the confusion between respect and obedience.
I have a theory that there is an inverse relationship, or a significant negative correlation, between fear and respect. Here are some informal sample studies.
One day I met 7 people between the ages of 13 and 15. I did a small survey of respect and fear. First I asked them how much they felt respected by their mothers and fathers, individually, from 0-10. Then I asked how much they felt afraid of each. As I expected there was an inverse relationship. They felt a high level of respect by both parents and a felt a low level of fear. They felt slightly more respected by their mothers and slightly more afraid of their fathers.
These were a group of bike riders, riding around Belgium. They have voluntarily joined the group so no one had been forced to go. They seemed quite healthy and happy. Some of them did smoke, but I think it was only three people in the group.
Here are the results stated as average numbers.
Study 2 -- Five Adolescents
I asked a 14 year old who I will call SEP, to do a little survey among 5 of her friends about respect and fear. I wanted to know how much her friends felt respected by, and afraid of, their mothers and fathers. Here is the report I got back.
Friend 5 *
* Note from the person asking the questions:
(I truly believe "Friend 5" has great parents. She is such a happy person I cant explain it; theres just something so free and wonderful about her. She really glows and has no worries. She is so lucky)
Respect and Parenting- Consequences for later in life
When we do not feel respected by our parents while we are living with them, we have an unmet need to feel respected later in life. This is such an obvious statement, yet it needs to be said. It is one of the clearest examples of what happens when our emotional needs are not filled in the right amounts at the right time by our parents. People who did not feel respected by their parents tend to take things personally later in life. They may make a big "scene" over something which to other people would seem small. They do this because they are in pain from the lack of respect which they are still feeling, one which originated many years earlier, but likely was not allowed to be expressed.
They may demand to be respected by their employees, their children, their students and the sales clerks in the supermarket. They make seek positions of power where they have authority over others as a way of trying to fill their unmet need for respect. But when they are in positions of authority it is easy for them to confuse respect and fear. When they are feared, they are not respected. When they try to use authority and fear as a substitute they find that they still feel unfulfilled since you can never get enough of a substitute.
On the other hand, another consequence might be that they have such low self-esteems that they never feel worthy of respect. In this case they will let people take advantage of them, abuse them and manipulate them.
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In many countries it is now illegal to hit children in school. In some countries, such as Sweden, it is also illegal to hit them in their homes. One result of this shift in social thinking is that children are becoming less afraid of their teachers, and of authority in general. In the past, the fear of physical punishment was often one of the main ways of maintaining control of the classroom and of society.
The trend in many countries is away from this form of control. I support this trend, but at the same time I am afraid we have taken away one method of control without replacing it with a better one. We have told the teachers you can no longer hit the children. But we did not tell them what to do instead. The result, according to many teachers, is sometimes chaos. What is needed is another basis of control.
I believe that respect is this other basis of control. But this respect must be earned and it must be mutual. It cannot be forced or demanded. It must not be confused with fear. If we confuse fear and respect we are returning to the use of fear. (See sections on this confusion and on how to earn respect)
I believe there is actually an inverse relationship between respect and fear. (See related story) Where the student feels afraid of teacher X, there is likely to be little respect for the teacher. If you now remove the fear from the equation, the student has neither fear of, nor respect for, teacher X. Now teacher X has lost control of the class. But if the teacher has earned the respect of his students, he still has a basis of control, even when the threat of physical punishment is removed. Therefore he can be expected to have fewer problems maintaining control of the classroom. In fact, this seems to be the case in actual practice. Many educators have told me that the teachers who show respect to students have lower levels of discipline and control problems as compared to teachers who use punishment and threats. (See also Authority, Fear and Respect)
If a child or teenager is treated with respect at home, it is likely he will respond positively to being treated with respect at school. But if he is hit at home and he knows that he can't be hit at school, the teacher's job will be more difficult. This is one reason why I believe it is important that we train all teachers in how to earn the respect of their students as part of their own formal education. Ideally, I would also like to see all parents and future parents trained in how to earn the respect of their children. Some, of course, can do this naturally, but I believe most people could use some formal training.
Outside of the home, teachers are one of the first representatives of authority in society. If they earn the respect of their students, the students are likely to respect others in positions of authority and society will tend to function a bit more smoothly.
I have noticed that one of the quickest ways to start a heated discussion with teachers is to ask them if they believe students should respect a teacher just because the teacher is a teacher, or if a teacher has to earn the respect of the students.
To me the answer is clearly the latter. But the fact that there are still many teachers who believe the former suggest that there is a serious shortcoming in the teacher training process.
I also believe that teacher training programs, for example in a typical university, do not show future teachers how to earn the respect and cooperation of the students. They are then significantly unprepared when they reach the classrooms.
Further, I suspect that if a person begins studying to become a teacher with the belief that teachers should be respected or obeyed, just because of their position as a teacher, it will be very hard to change this belief. What might be needed then, is some way of filtering prospective teachers based on their beliefs. While this idea may make some people feel uncomfortable, the reality is that a person's beliefs do significantly affect their attitudes, and attitudes affect the classroom environment. Beliefs also affect a person's ability to be taught new things, especially new ideas. At present the teacher training programs I am familiar with do not test a future teacher for their open-mindedness. Instead, I am afraid that their ability to adapt to the status quo is much more highly valued. Much depends, of course, on the people who design and control the teacher training curriculums and the admissions and graduation processes. Their beliefs will obviously affect the system itself and the future teachers created by the system.
I also suspect that if a teacher or future teacher is emotionally needy, and they have an unmet emotional need to feel in control or to feel important, it will be almost impossible for them to treat students with respect regardless of their training and preparation. I would suggest that such people really do not belong in the educational system and society will be better off if they are replaced by more emotionally secure individuals (and administrators).
On the other hand, I also believe there are many teachers and future teachers who agree that respect needs to be earned, so they just need to be offered practical skills to help them learn how to do this.
Every human needs to feel respected, even the least powerful. (We might even say, especially the least powerful.)
This point was etched into my brain when I saw a homeless man soliciting the patrons of a fast food restaurant in Florida. The cashier, a street-wise New Yorker, loudly and coldly told the man that he needed to leave. Everyone in the restaurant looked up to see what was happening. I suspect the man felt embarrassed, humiliated, rejected and attacked. I was surprised, though, at how defensively he reacted. He chastised the cashier for her manner of speaking to him and said, among other things, "You got to show folks some respect, sister. That ain't no way to be speakin' to nobody!"
While the cashier and the man argued, I felt empathy for both of them. I could understand both of their perspectives. I felt a small amount of fear that the situation was escalating out of control as they both raised their voices. I realized that by not showing respect for the man's feelings, (by defending herself and invalidating him) she actually was causing more problems for herself and causing more of a disturbance in the restaurant. In other words, she was acting counter-productively. Clearly, everyone, even the homeless street person, needs to feel respected.
Respect is one of those words that is so widely used it has many different meanings to different people. We all seem to know it is important to respect each other, but I am not sure we could all agree on just what respect actually is.
How does the father feel when he is saying "Don't talk to me like that"?
Most likely he is feeling disrespected. But why doesn't the son feel respect for the father at this moment? Possibly because the father is threatening the son.
Threatening someone does not earn their respect. A threat is used to create fear, not respect. So it is natural for the son to feel disrespectful.
The father creates even more fear by ordering his son not to talk to him "like that". By giving this command, the father is also encouraging emotional falseness. He wants the son to talk to him in a respectful tone, but the son does not respect for the father at that moment.
In this brief exchange of words, the father has succeeded only in creating more fear and falseness, not more respect.
See section on emotional honesty
One day I talked to a couple from Ireland who had two adolescent age daughters. I said, "Since you are parents, I have a question for you about raising children. I just got this email from a friend of mine who is 18. She said her mother slapped her last week because she "talked back" to her. She asked me what gives her mother the right to do this. She said that if she didn't like what someone at a store said, she would not be able to reach out and slap the sales clerk. She said that would be illegal. What do you think about this? Do you think it is ever necessary to slap a teenage girl? Do you know if it is legal to slap your daughter in Ireland?"
The mother answered by saying, "Well, you need to be able to correct your children. So yes, I'd say it is legal."
I then said, "I agree that parents need to be able to correct their children, but it seems to me that 18 is a bit old to still be slapping your child. What do you think?"
She said, "Well, yes, I suppose it is. If you haven't been able to teach your child respect by that age then there is probably something wrong."
So I am wondering now... If a mother slaps her daughter to "correct" her is she teaching respect... or fear?
A woman I will call "Concerned" is going to see her new partner this weekend. She has been feeling concerned about their relationship. A key issue is that she doesn't feel very respected by him and she would like him to do some things differently. In this dialogue we are discussing how to present her concerns.
We both agreed this last idea was a good one.
In the story above about respect and romance I discussed a friend who was thinking about how to tell her boyfriend how much she felt respected by him. This is a continuation of that story, describing what happened when she brought up the subject. She said that even though she tried her best not to put him on the defensive, he still used his culture as a defense, while attacking hers. Her partner had told her that, "you can't put a number on feelings."
He also told her that if you like and love someone you just automatically respect them. He told her that people in his culture did not measure feelings with numbers. He said this might be something people do in the West, but not in his culture. He said in his culture one "feels with the heart and not with mathematics." After that rebuke and short lecture, she was afraid to say anything more about it, and, not surprisingly, their relationship did not last long.
This example raises an important issue. It reminds us that the word respect means different things to different people and to different cultures. It also suggests that in a relationship of any kind, but especially an intimate or romantic relationship, it is important to discuss the definition of respect. It is important to find a common ground to be able to continue the discussion.
It also helps us see that an important part of respect is accepting someone. This includes accepting their definition of respect, as well as their way of expressing their feelings about it.
This story reminds me of the Mayer-Salovey definition of emotional intelligence when the new boyfriend says "one feels with the heart and not with mathematics." At the very core of the Mayer-Salovey definition is the relationship between the "heart" and the intellect. According to these two well-respected university professors, emotional intelligence combines feelings and reason. It seems, then, that the process of assigning numbers to feelings, and then rationally discussing what the respective numbers mean, is a perfect practical application of their academic model. (See the Mayer-Salovey model of EI)
Another example of the relationship between respect, obedience and fear is seen in a parent who uses threats to try to control their child's behavior. A question worth asking is: Does that parent want the child to respect or obey them? Most parents would say: "Of course I want my children to respect me." Then I thought about why some parents fail to earn the respect of their children, and instead have to rely on fear to try to control them. And I thought: "What happens when your children are not afraid of you anymore?"
Next I thought about a hypothetical conversation with a parent who might say: "I know how to frighten my children. That is easy. But how do I earn their respect?"
Then I thought, "Anyone can frighten a child, but not everyone knows how to earn their respect."
Therefore, we must teach the parents, teachers and perhaps the world's political leaders. We can't hold them responsible for something which was never taught them.
Once I asked 15 year old why she feels respected by me. Here is our conversation.
This conversation was on August 19, 2002 with Briar Fitzgerald of Ontario, Canada. I have used her real name with her permission.
Feeling Disrespected at Age 21
When Nathalie was home visiting her parents in she called her grandmother. While they were talking, the father came in and heard who she was talking to. He pushed the speaker button on the telephone so he and his wife could hear the whole conversation. Nathalie pushed the button back off. She wanted to have a private conversation with her grandmother. Later she asked her father to please not do that while she was talking.
The father got defensive and said things like, "But we are all part of the same family. Everything should be open within the family. There should be no need to hide anything. If you don't want others to hear what grandmother is saying then you must have something to hide." Nathalie told her father that she didn't have anything to hide, but that she felt a little disrespected when he simply pushed the button without asking her first.
Her father got even more defensive and said, "That has nothing to do with respect. There is no reason for you to feel disrespected. Of course I respect you. It is normal for people in the same family to share everything. Lately you are always accusing your mother and I of not respecting you. How could you possibly say that we don't? What is the matter with you, Nathalie? Where are you getting these strange ideas? What are they teaching you at that university? Why do you take everything so personally? Sometimes I think you really need to see a psychologist for your problems." Then he walked away.
Feeling Disrespected at age 16
One week I was staying at a relative's house. I was using the computer in the 16 year old's room. The father came in and we started talking. He was telling me how his son had made some of the furniture in the room. One of the things he made was a small table. On the table was a cloth cover. He took off the photograph and the other things on top of the table, then took off the cover, saying, "I don't know why he has this covered up. I like the way the natural wood looks." He folded up the cloth cover and put it on his desk.
It was hard for me to believe my eyes. I was so stunned I couldn't even think of what to say. All I could think of was, "But it is not your room!" When the son came home I happened to be in his room using the computer. He immediately noticed the change his father had made and he asked me if I knew anything about it. I explained what had happened and then asked how he felt about it.
He rolled his eyes, shook his head and said, "He does that kind of thing all the time. He also comes in and makes my bed even though I have told him I don't like it. It is just another one of the many reasons I don't feel respected by him."
|http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=endscreen&v=VOr2b8DiqUc&NR=1 Another police, skateboarding example|