What it really means to respect
The other day my son had this writing assignment for school: “What is respect?”
As soon as I saw that topic I automatically felt like a hissing cat on the defense. Why? Because this is a touchy topic for me as the way I see respect often diverts from the more traditional view of what it should be.
Most people judge respect by the external signs they can see and appreciate, and when they fail to see these signs they automatically call for a lack of respect.
This is a theme that is recurrent among parents.
Just a few days ago I talked to a dad who was feeling that he was not getting the respect he deserved from his son. He had asked his son to turn off the tv and go brush his teeth and considered that his son constantly not obeying him in a timely fashion displayed a lack of respect towards him.
It is also a recurrent theme when I work with teachers too as they feel that ‘kids these days’ do not respect adults anymore, they talk back, are rude or just ignore the adults when they are reprimanded.
Was that little boy or those students disrespectful? I personally don’t think they necessarily were.
Thinking about respect often brings me back to a conversation I had with one of my cousin’s husband (who was about a decade older than me) as I was just back from my studies. I don’t really remember what we were discussing anymore but I do remember that we had conflicting opinions and we were both expressing our different views on a topic. It was not a heated discussion, on the contrary it was rather a calm one and yet we were still somewhat involved as we were both trying to get our points across to the other. My cousin walked by and shocked me to silence when she accused me very loudly to be disrespectful to her husband.
“Mais tu es insolente!” she said.
The reason I was shocked to silence was that 1) this is an older cousin for whom I have the greatest respect for and usually value the opinion of and 2) I didn’t feel for the slightest moment that I was being insolent to her husband. I was only expressing my views and trying to get a point across.
So yes, I do agree that it is important to teach our children to be obedient and polite, but I don’t think that when these signs are not displayed it automatically calls for a lack of respect.
On the other hand I believe that many people do display these external signs without being truly respectful to others. Because you see external signs of respect can be drilled and forced and a can become a habit, but true and deep respect cannot.
I don’t believe that true respect can be forced. Ever.
Fear can. People may change their behavior towards you because they fear you. Does that mean that they respect you? Not necessarily. They may inwardly think that you are the biggest village idiot… You can never force people to have a true and deep respect for you.
Deep respect has to be earned. Always.
So here is what it really means to respect in my opinion:
- Respect is when people value you and what you have to say because they trust your judgment and appreciate you.
What does that mean for us as parents: It means that if we want our children to value and trust us, we also need to value and trust them. We need to understand where they are coming from and hear what they have to say. It means that when they ‘obey’ us they do so because they believe that we have their best interest at heart and not because they fear us.
- Respect is caring enough about what people think and feel, and act accordingly towards them.
What does that mean for us as parents: It means that when our children have the behaviour we ask of them they do so because they care about us and want to please us. It means that when they talk back or misbehave there is a breach in the relationship that we as parent can repair by caring about their thoughts and feelings.
- Respect is never blaming or shaming someone, even if that person did something that is not right.
What does that mean for us as parents: It means that as human we will all make mistakes at times. As parents we are not perfect and we try our best. It means that when we do make mistakes we don’t need to feel guilty about it, we just need to recognize it so that we can do better the next time. It means that our children are learning and they will stumble. And it also means that when they do, we provide them with the right tools to learn better rather than using blame and shame.
- Respect is never using force, control or violence to achieve the goals that we aim at.
What does that mean for us as parents: It means that there are way better tools and methods nowadays than punishments, time outs or spanking. It means that whenever we apply control to the way we want our children to behave we are failing to see them as individuals with free spirits. It means that in any relationship we always have the choice to be gentle, even in our firmness.
- Respect is to acknowledge that others may have different views and opinions and be okay with that.
What does that mean for us as parents: It means that as our children grow they will do so with their own uniqueness and it may mean that their views and beliefs will not be similar to ours and that we need to accept that gracefully. It means that only by being different from us, and from everyone else for that matter, will they be able to find who they are really meant to be in this world, and that we as parents need to honour that.
Being respectful, truly being respectful goes way deeper than obeying or saying ‘good morning’, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.
I do believe that if true respect is present, the right behaviour will naturally emerge.
I’d be curious to know what your view of respect is? Do share with me in the comments if we’re on the same page or if you believe respect to be different.