R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Earned, Not Given Freely

You know, as I sit here writing this article I’m finding myself a bit conflicted. ‘Tis the season, and one part of me thinks I should be writing about being grateful for all that I have.  I am grateful.  I am free to write what I want, go where I want, say what I want, believe what I want.  I am lucky to be alive and I have a nice life in spite of all the crazy circumstances that the Universe throws at us mortals.  But another part of me is watching this world self destruct little by little, or maybe the destruction is not so little any more.  A congressman was just convicted for federal tax evasion and still believes he should hold office.  People are protesting everywhere for their rights, whatever they believe them to be, and they are not satisfied with anything being offered. And militants are opening fire on innocent children as a show of power, just because they think they are above the law and can get away with doing whatever they please.  And so I sit here on Christmas Eve with this topic of respect twirling around in my head.

R-e-s-p-e-c-t.  What does it mean to you?  I’m regularly asking people to define ethical concepts these days because I’ve learned not to assume anything. My experience with delivering ethics workshops has taught me that we all think we have the same definition, but the reality is that we don’t.  Why the topic of respect?  I was recently at a meeting where the host asked his audience for respect.  His argument was that he and his team worked very hard for all of us, so they deserved respect. I must say, I was surprised at this bold request.  Especially given the context of the situation.  The leader and his team were delivering a report on the status of the community. The leader was complaining about how people treated them.  Well, naturally, when most requests for assistance are denied and the team is absolutely inflexible in their business dealings, there will be fallout in the form of negative reactions.  This team is not known for communicating well, nor are they perceived to treat people in the community particularly fairly.  

As I listened to the leader beg for respect I started asking myself what are the criteria for offering respect. Is it enough to just work hard, or are there other factors that should be considered.  And I answered that question emphatically – respect is not just about working hard, it also includes how we treat each other and how well we listen/hear/understand each other.  It is also about how we communicate. If every communication is in the form of a veiled threat, is it possible to respect the person making the threat?  If we are expected to take actions we do not agree with and the person requesting us to act fails to explain their reasoning, is it possible to offer respect?   If we are treated poorly or unfairly, is it possible to respect the people who are mistreating us?

Perhaps respect is at the heart of society’s current unrest.  People feel they’ve been treated badly.  Whether or not this is true is a debate for another day.  The perception is out there and this is what is fueling the discontent and conflict we are witnessing.  So I say respect is earned, not freely given.  It’s time for all of us to look at our own behavior and determine if we are worthy of respect and willing to offer it to others.

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