I was talking to a student about a difficult relationship with a teacher. The student didn’t like the teacher’s communication style and decided the teacher had not earned respect. The student gave less effort and had a negative attitude, because the teacher was “not worthy of respect.” The student ended up with a poor grade, being grounded and not being a great version of self all in the name of withdrawing respect from someone who hadn’t earned it. Following the interaction, I started wondering about the cost to ourselves and others when we practice withdrawing respect from others when they displease us or behave in ways that don’t align with our values.
It’s uncomfortable when we discover someone holds a different view or value that is in fundamental opposition to our way of approaching life. We are left to decide how we will engage this person going forward. Current culture encourages us to believe respect is earned and only safely given to people who agree with us. Social media and news give us permission to cut off, cut out, publicly shame and withdraw not only respect, but also kindness from anyone who sees things differently. This begins as a way to “hold people accountable” and ends with us finding ourselves being unkind, rude, judgmental, self-righteous, bitter and a version of self that can become unrecognizable.
What if there are two kinds of respect? The traditional definition of respect is holding someone in high esteem or admiration. This type of admiring respect is what we refer to when talking about earning respect. It is based on character, performance and behavioral choices. We choose to bestow admiring respect on some and not on others. The second brand of respect is basic human respect. Basic human respect is the fundamental belief that each human has inherent value and worth regardless of what they believe or how they behave. Basic human respect is born out of respecting self and extending to others the same level of common decency you hope others will extend to you. This respect assumes we do not have the right to subtract from the value of another person regardless of their disagreement with us in word or action. Basic human respect is freely assumed and not earned or lost.
Our culture is often confusing withdrawal of admiring respect with withdrawal of basic human respect. When we don’t admire someone, there is not a significant social cost. When we don’t extend basic human respect, we begin to believe we are better, to verbally assault others, to lose compassion, to dehumanize, to oppress, to reduce our character and to blindly engage in hypocrisy—all in the name of withholding respect others aren’t doing their job to earn. When we make withholding basic human respect a habit, we find ourselves going down a dark character hole. So, how can we avoid this pitfall?
5 Ways to Practice Extending Basic Human Respect to Others
Extend grace freely because you’re going to need it. No matter how hard you try, you will not be perfect and will make mistakes. Your values will not always align with others. You will need others to extend basic human respect to you.
Use judgment as a mirror. Typically, when we feel judgmental of others, there is an internal issue we need to address. Ask yourself what purpose your judgment is serving both inwardly and outwardly. Try trading judgment for curiosity. Try being curious about others beliefs/behaviors.
Treat others with kindness you would show to your friend or child. You would be kind to your friend or child if they disagreed with you. Treat others in the world with this same level of kindness. Your kindness should be based on who you want to be, not on whether someone else is pleasing you.
Speak to others as equals. You are not better or worse than anyone. Use a tone of voice, words, eye contact and nonverbals that reflect your belief that others are your equal.
Embrace humility. Just because you believe you are right about things doesn’t mean you are. Try remembering you are human and you have things to learn from other people. Sometimes we learn the most profound lessons from those who see things differently.
As you pursue a life marked by extending basic human respect to others, remember your internal work is making the world a better, more loving place. Connect with us along your journey of growth for counseling and coaching support at journeybravely.com.