What I have learned about respect

What I have learned is that there are different types of respect.

The problem is that in English, we only have one word for it.

That means we grow up thinking respect is a single and exclusionary thing:

  1. Either you respect someone, or you don’t.
  2. Either you are respected, or you aren’t.

In reality, it’s a lot more complex.

This type of thinking leads to a lot of ‘I am better than you’, insider/outsider behaviour:

  1. You’re one of us.
  2. If you’re not with us, you’re against us.
  3. You don’t share my values.

And so on.

There are different degrees and types of trust

I don’t just mean there are different degrees of respect, which there are, there are also different types of respect.

By degree

Respect is not all in/all out.

It’s not instant.

It can come off a low base and grow, or likewise do a Humpty Dumpty. It’s flux.

By type

You can feel respect towards all, without respecting all equally or respecting everything everyone does.

There is what I think of as a deeply human, non-specific, broad spectrum respect. And then there is what I think of as an equally deeply human but more specific individual respect to do with, “what do I make of this person in front of me?”

A lot of conundrums stem from trying to reconcile helpful intuitions (this person is bad for me I should steer away from them, which we should listen to) with respect.

We mix  –

  1. ‘Same as me’, with respect
  2. ‘Like’, with respect
  3. ‘Trust’, with respect.

But a form of respect can exist independent of all of these and it can be useful to release ourselves from the idea of respect as meaning – ‘I like and trust that person because they’re like me.’

We tend to respect people who are the same as us

I was brought up to respect others, so, grateful for that as it gave me a strong base. But as I got older I felt that – no – there were things I could not respect. I had my list. I got very strong on this.

Looking back, I see that I came to respect those who shared my values.

That’s of course because I thought I had good values, the right values, probably secretly on some level I thought I had the best values (honesty, kindness, compassion, love, the will do good, etc.) Most of us do and that is the great irony about the wars that emerge from a clash in values.

I was unable to reconcile the broad-spectrum with the individual.

For example, you can be kind and it can be very tough to be kind, much harder than being cruel, but you also need to know when to draw absolute lines with people (in fact, this is kind).

We tend to reflexively respond to others as they treat us. If someone casts a hurtful insult we want to hurl back something of at least of equal force, better if we’re on our game.

We justify it – ‘but, but s/he started it -‘ but really, it makes us the same as what we dislike.

The S.A.M.E. Same.

You may bite your tongue. You may realise that calling him a thickhead to your big arse accomplishes little. But you also may decide that you don’t want people in your life who exercise power by using insults to put others down.

You remain kind, but merciless about who you let in.

Similarly, respect.

You don’t have to have the same amount or kind of respect, you simply don’t, but extending a form of respect is important.

Could you respect a person who operates as above?

Yes. In that you are respectful towards them while recognising they are a poor role model. An uninspiring leader. Not someone you may want to be like, which is beside the point.

Broad spectrum respect

I want to talk about the general, deeply human respect.

Extend it.

Regardless of if you like or have individualised respect for a person. You can separate ‘the thing’, from ‘the person’. There are things you don’t like, that you don’t agree with, that you may not do yourself. That is not what I am talking about.

This issue comes up a lot in philosophies and spiritual practices.

I remember learning about Tonglen meditation from Pema Chodron many years ago. In this practice, you extend an emotion towards someone you care about, for example, love for a sick friend; breathing in their pain, breathing out an emotion you want for them, like joy. From there you extend the practice to those you don’t know and then, here’s the rub, someone you actively dislike.

Have you ever tried to breath in the pain of someone you actively dislike and send them love?

It’s hard!

Sometimes, it’s impossible.

But it’s a good exercise because it shows that in reality, we really just want things on our own terms, regardless of the impact on others.

‘But’, you say, ‘there is a good reason why I did XYZ.”

There always is.

We are excellent at rationalising that what we do, regardless of who we are, is justified.

‘But, I truly have a good reason.’ (We add. And if we don’t say it, we think it.)

We confuse ‘like’ with ‘respect’

Like and respect are not synonymous.

Respecting people, even if you don’t like them, is important. Though if they want to hurt you, run a mile.

Like, I have learned, is less important.

Spend time with people you like, you only have one life. But life doesn’t rise and fall on like. And you can like someone but not really respect them, and that’s worse. Respect is far more important. Over time, if you don’t respect someone, it eats like.

Fill your life for those for whom you have both broad spectrum and individual respect, that’s the best combination.

And be that person. Be a person that others respect by being trustworthy and honourable and person-enough to live by what you think is right without being a dogged ideologist who needs others to mirror you.

Having said all this, there will be people who you find so intolerable that you find it hard to dig up even broad-spectrum respect.

The outliners people point to during just this sort of a discussion – the Hitler’s and Pol Pots in various forms in political, corporate or personal life.

That’s understandable.