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What Is Respect?

August 21, 2017

Author: Bianca Yang
Email: ipacifics@gmail.com
Twitter: @xdrtxrdt

I’m currently trying to understand what respect is. I don’t think I’ve ever internalized how to respect people or show respect to a concept. I’ve never truly respected the American flag, the American anthem, authority, or anything I’m supposed to respect. I’ve feared them and looked in awe at them and displayed culturally appropriate behavior that was drilled in at a young age, but I’ve never really understood why they deserve respect or how respect feels.

There is an idea that showing respect is similar to being obedient. If you respect someone, you never speak out against them, speak up against them, or shown any kind of retaliatory action towards them. But that’s not true respect. If you respect someone, you should be able to stand on equal ground with them and push back against their ideas. Respect doesn’t mean deference; it means admiration. You can certainly admire someone and not agree with them. In fact, it’s great if you don’t agree, because learning happens at the cracks in your understanding. Someone you respect should have enough decency and dignity to respect you and your opinions so that you can carry on a meaningful discussion about your models of the world. Anyone who doesn’t respect you doesn’t deserve your respect. Relationships are a two-way street, and any negative behavior you experience means there are serious potholes and cracks coming up ahead. The same goes for behavior you exhibit.

One thing we don’t appreciate enough is just how hard it is to change people. I think most of us want to believe in the inherent goodness of people. We want to think that, given the right circumstances, people want to help their fellow man. And that is probably mostly right. But we must be extremely attuned to the incentives that could be influencing someone’s decisions and actions. We must be extremely attuned to the habits that could be driving their actions. Those habits and preferences and responses to incentives are largely deeply ingrained in someone’s consciousness. While you may want to help someone break free of their prejudices and bad habits, the desire and impetus for change must come from within that person. They must realize their faults and truly want to make change. You can guide them on that path, but that job is mostly best left to professionals or others. Your time is best spent advancing yourself and your abilities. Don’t worry about feeling selfish or guilty. Unless that person must be a persistent force in your life, as a coworker, spouse, child, friend, etc., you can always choose to terminate the relationship. Pick things back up when the situation improves.

Back to respect. I think the definition of respect as a feeling of deep awe and admiration is pretty good. I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to realize that respect was so simple. Well, I am glad I’ve finally realized this truth.