Today I’ve decided to write about something a little bit more abstract and with great impact on each of our lives. My notion of respect might be rather particular.
I think each person, as a human being, deserves respect as a default right. Of course, rights can sometimes be suspended, but never a priori. I do not condition respect to the respect of others. I believe each person has their own considerations towards respect, and that might be different from mine.
I respect each person’s vision of the world. That vision, including beliefs, attitudes, values, experience, potential, principles, perspectives, expression, is each person’s sum of influences. That means that everything that happened in that person’s life had an influence that has ultimately determined that person’s vision.
That vision may not be correct, might not be according to reality, and mostly, is likely different than mine. Still, that vision deserves respect. Now… respect is a value… the translation of value to behavior is what makes it visible in the eyes of others.
It is rather likely that lack of respect stands out, more than respect. In the meantime, there are situations when we consider we have behaved respectfully, although other people don’t feel respected. Why does that happen?
When someone thinks he or she is respected, that means it is the same thing as being agreed to. It is not. It is easy to prove a lack of respect towards someone not having the same beliefs as you do. But people are not their opinions. And communication is more than agreeing. Some people talk to be listened to and ask questions to be agreed to, but that is not communication. And certainly, it is not proof of respect.
Another thing that might happen would be the tendency of treating a refusal as a personal offense. For example, someone I know asked me to send forward a link to the protest which took place a few days ago in Piata Victoriei from Bucharest. I replied, “I don’t believe in that cause, I don’t want to promote it”. I understood her point of view and that she was affected, and at the same time, while I expressed respect towards her beliefs, I felt judged because she took that as a personal rejection. An idea to keep in mind for such situations: “if someone doesn’t agree to (some of) your ideas, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t agree to you as a person, it doesn’t mean that YOU are denied/rejected/ignored/banned/prohibited“. It just means there’s a difference in opinions. Where there is a difference, there must be respect.
Let’s take an example of a social habit that most people can relate to. It is well known that smoking damages health. That means people who smoke are likely to increase the chances to get their health affected. If you smoke, you are most probably aware of the fact you endanger your health. For example, if someone smokes, I respect that person’s right to do harm to themselves, because it’s that person’s right to choose what to do with his/her health. The same with people who lie to themselves or any other similar situation. While having respect, I do not support their choice in any way. That means if someone asks me for as much as moving a lighter a few inches further, I don’t. I respect their rights, and I disagree with their manifestation.
Why do I do that?
For instance, if someone is doing something wrong for himself/herself, but is interested in changing something, I can find that out with questions, and plant some little suggestions or give information. But, if that person is not really interested, I don’t want to convince them. A lot of time is wasted with discussions like: “I think X!” “Oh, no, I think not X!”. I don’t want to convince anyone that I’m right, it’s not like I own the ultimate truth or get candy each time I determine someone to change his/her mind… Still, some people continue to behave like that…
I believe each person is entitled to make their own discoveries, in due time. To face a person with a conclusion (s)he is not ready to understand or accept is like taking away from them what they could have discovered, on their own, with the greater gain for themselves. For example, my mother has a very bad opinion about Romania. At the same time, I don’t agree with her bad opinion, but I respect her vision, as I understand it is due to her experience. She did not try to force her own opinion on me, but she expected me to end up to a similar conclusion. After a few years, I have decided to move from Romania, but not out of HER reasons, but because of MY reasons. That way, I am entirely responsible for my decision.
I will give you an example of how I applied that from my own experience. In high school, I had a colleague. I used to have with her a lot of contradictions, on different topics. Those contradictions weren’t going anywhere. I was trying to explain to her, among others, the influence of her family situation on her development opportunities. About six (!) years later, she told me she was beginning to understand what I was telling her back then. Now imagine: I could have rambled 6 years on that topic… maybe I would have convinced her, but then, it wasn’t she who had the responsibility and the merit of realizing. Yes, sometimes, it may be a good thing to intervene in someone’s life… but that often happens when people assume they know better what’s appropriate for others.
Thinking you know better what’s appropriate for others is a deep lack of respect, it’s like saying: “You don’t know how to live your life, let me show you”. Even if you’re right, that is not the proper approach. It is one I can afford to use with close friends who appreciate frank, honest opinions.
Another thing that I consider a lack of respect is labeling people, judging them for less they truly are, through partial, momentary experiences, especially those of “idiot”. There’s a classic presentation from the ‘ 80s, “how can someone be an idiot?”, which concludes that actually when you tend to believe that someone is an idiot, that means (s)he actually has a very different idea from yours. So the thing to discover when tending to label someone in an un-elegant manner is what is so different from what this person is stating.
Ultimately, do on to others as you want to be done on yourself may sometimes be a form of lack of respect, discounting a fundamental truth: people have different motivations, consider important different things, and have different values and expectations. For instance, I like to be awake at 6 AM in the morning, listen to audiobooks while walking on the street and play chess, talk on YM, write on my blog and listen to music at the same time. I doubt everyone would like the same thing.
PS: What I have stated until here doesn’t apply when someone might hurt someone else through a certain behavior. One thing I cannot respect is to interfere through your liberty with someone else’s rights.
Copyright text © Marcus Victor Grant, 2010-present
Copyright photo © Irina Chiriță, 2015-present