Why it matters: Feeling superior to others hurts both sides and destroys all chance of a healthy relationship—or even a mutually agreeable resolution to conflict. Respecting others as human beings with human dignity makes it easier to find common ground, avoid lasting hurt, and keep lines of communication open for the future.
What it ISN’T:
- Hero worship. While healthy respect means seeing another’s good points and potential, it doesn’t preclude recognizing his imperfections. Hero worship goes past the line of discernment and over the cliff; it refuses to acknowledge that the “hero” is capable of being wrong about anything. Most hero worshippers lack respect for themselves; they hope to cancel out their own feelings of inferiority by being associated with someone infallible. Abused partners who blame themselves for the abuser’s behavior are among the worse examples, but the worst cases are holocausts and cult suicides perpetrated by crowds blindly following charismatic egomaniacs.
- Just obeying authority. It’s certainly possible to obey authority—usually the authority that demands “respect” the loudest—out of pure self-interest while feeling nothing but contempt inside. It’s only respect when you follow the leader out of free choice.
- Letting the recognition of universal human rights devolve into anarchy. Most parents know the situation of the five-year-old wailing, “If you can stay up until eleven, why can’t I?” Everyone, regardless of age, abilities, or position, has equal right to receive respect—but not equal right to decide what he or she is ready for or qualified to do.
What it IS:
- Looking for, and emphasizing, common ground at times of disagreement. There is usually more common ground than we think; but you’ll never see it if you’re intent on protecting your rights at the other party’s expense.
- Following the rules unless there is a very good reason not to. The U. S. Army has a saying, “If you can’t salute the person, salute the uniform.” In other words, even if the rules make no sense and the person enforcing them is a jerk, respect the needs of the larger situation and stick to the rules for the sake of order.
- Protesting without rebellion if you must protest. Open defiance is acceptable only when the situation is a firmly institutionalized injustice or a matter of life and death—and, even then, a quiet-but-firm attitude is the best rule. So is approaching the person in charge as a first resort; many ugly scenes could have been avoided if someone hadn’t assumed “the establishment would never listen to reason anyway” and ruled out even trying.
- Making it a rule to be polite and patient, even when provoked. Raised voices and name-calling are the antithesis of respect—and, however obvious the excuse, cause observers to lose respect for you. Respect others and yourself, and people will treat you with respect in return.