What I’ve Learned About Respect: Give It to Get It

by Enoon Gnihton

I am a strong believer in the idea that respect for each other as human beings is an essential element of productive human relationships. It is natural for us to have different views on any given issue, but a lack of respect for the humanity of those holding divergent views is a formula for escalating conflict, unhealthy relationships, and societal gridlock.

Our society is currently experiencing a breakdown in respectful discourse on important issues that threatens our ability to function. Mudslinging and personal insults have become the norm in political debates. Each of us must hold ourselves accountable to each other for advocating and personifying respectful behavior.

A External link opens in new tab or windowPew Research Center poll prior to the 2016 presidential election revealed that 58% of registered voters who backed Hillary Clinton said that they have a “hard time” respecting someone who supports Trump for president; 40% said they have “no trouble” with it. Among Donald Trump supporters 40% had a “hard time” respecting someone who supported Clinton while 56% said they had “no trouble” respecting someone who supported Clinton. A lack of respect for those holding different views among large segments of our voting population severely diminishes our ability to address the important issues that we face as a society.

Nearly all of us want to be respected as human beings. Most of us believe that we are entitled to be treated with due regard for our feelings, wishes, and rights as people. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the 18th century German philosopher Emanuel Kant was “the first major Western philosopher to put respect for persons, including oneself as a person, at the very center of moral theory, and his insistence that persons are ends in themselves with an absolute dignity who must always be respected has become a core ideal of modern humanism…”.

Dignity can be defined as worthiness or value, and each of us wants to feel worthy and valued by our fellow human beings. Conversely, to disrespect or to “dis” someone is to treat them as undignified, not valued or worthy, and in extreme cases less than human. The great majority of us understand the animosity that we feel when someone “disses” us. On the streets in some neighborhoods, “dissing” someone can be grounds for a variety of negative responses some of which can include physical violence. Disrespect can be unhealthy!

It is not necessary for us to like someone in order to respect them.

        “I'm not concerned with your liking or disliking me... All I ask is that you respect me as a human being.”     Jackie Robinson

Fulfilling our potential as individuals and as a society is highly dependent on creating and nurturing an environment of mutual respect and collaboration in order to solve the important issues that we face. It is incumbent upon each of us to exemplify and model respectful behavior if we expect to be treated with respect.

 “We all have goals: We want to matter. We want to be important. We want to have freedom and power to pursue our creative work. We want respect from our peers and recognition for our accomplishments. Not out of vanity or selfishness, but of an earnest desire to fulfill our personal potential.”      Ryan Holiday

If I want respect from others, I must begin with respect for myself. Self respect is a requirement for being “worthy” of the respect of others. Respect for individuals must be earned, but it begins with respecting them as human beings. Respect is more than an attitude; it is behavior that is validated by how we treat other people.

"One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say"           Bryant H. Mcgill

Instead of telling, arguing, and contending, I am learning to respectfully listen attentively to someone with a different point of view. I can assure you that it is challenging. It is difficult to suppress the desire to refute, convince, advocate, and show them where they are wrong. But the payoff of listening is the opportunity for a greater understanding and an appreciation for other perspectives. Understanding enriches us with a broader view than we would otherwise have available to us to solve problems. Respect and understanding move us closer to creating solutions that will allow us to achieve our full potential as a society.

I have learned that in order to get respect, that I first must give respect to others. Respect for each other creates win-win solutions that benefit us all. The next time you encounter someone with a different point of view, try listening respectfully. It doesn’t cost anything and you have a lot to gain, including respect, if not from others - from yourself for at least trying.

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