What is respect?

I have a vague memory of being a tween and having an authority figure snap at me, “Don’t disrespect me!”

I remember that I wasn’t sure what they meant. I didn’t see anything wrong with my respect for them, but they obviously did. I tried to ask what I was doing that was disrespectful, and they couldn’t articulate it to me. I just resolved to avoid this adult authority figure who didn’t have clear expectations for my behavior.

It wasn’t until I embarked on a style project that I found a definition of respect that made sense. The lesson was about attitude, self-esteem, and self-respect.

Respect comes from being personally and socially responsible. You build respect for yourself by behaving well. Behave well at work, with your spouse and children, with strangers and when no one us looking and people will respect you, and you will respect yourself. Part of behaving well is listening to others, and being polite.

Though this was a style project, about helping me dress better to be professional at my internship, it became an important marriage lesson. I began to realize that when I got angry at my partner, I did not behave well. I behaved badly. I tended to have a temper tantrum.

This was an embarrassing realization. I was not doing my part to bring respect to my marriage in the face of conflict. In fact, I usually place all the blame on him and whine about how I was wronged while throwing said hissyfit. Wow, that is hard to admit. This kind of behavior made it hard for my husband to look at my hurt honestly and help me heal

Respect is not throwing a hissyfit when your husband signs a card in a different space then you anticipated. (Just did that one…sigh, lesson not yet fully learned.) Respect is picking up trash even when it isn’t yours, our wiping down the wall where your toddler smeared ice cream. Respect is responsibility to yourself and others, socially and professionally, and behaving well.

What do you think? Do you have a better actionable definition of respect? This new found definition of respect connects to other things I have been thinking about.


3 thoughts on “What is respect?

  1. I think you’ve summed up the behavior associated with respect fairly well. It is a socially acceptable set of behaviors that should benefit both the giver and the receiver. Being respectful of others helps us to cultivate and maintain a level of civility.

    This bring to mind an interesting discussion we had at work a few months ago while we were working through some trouble areas our group seems to run into time and again. We finally admitted that even if you don’t respect what the other person says or does, you should still show respect for the person. Allowing your biases and beliefs to overthrow common decency should never be an acceptable alternative. This brought us to the heart of conflict management. We had to agree as a group that we would listen even when we didn’t want to and we would voice our objections in a logical and reasoned fashion. On the flip side, the one being confronted with the objections would actually listen and think before responding. (Believe it or not, despite the professional setting, this wasn’t always the case.)

    While I think the workplace offers a buffer of interpersonal distance, the same rules of exchange can work in more intimate relationships. Respect the person even if you don’t respect/like/appreciate their choices, whether those choices play out in word choice or behavior. Address the issue and avoid personal attacks; I’ve seen so many couples resort to name calling when they should have tried to work out a reasonable end to the problem.

  2. That is a very fair and thorough definition of respect. The way you incorporated it into your marriage was insightful as well. Respect is critical with dealing with one-another in our daily lives, whether that be our friendships, marriages, etc. Part of our mission is to empower women to respect themselves enough to leave abusive situations with their partners. We try to teach them about love and respect, because often times these words have taken different, less accurate, meanings to them. Check out our blog called Creating Sanctuary, where you will find information ranging from intimate-partner violence, to survivor stories and much more.

  3. Respect is a matter of how you view yourself and your place in the world. If you accept the role you’re in, it’s easy to be respectful. If you feel wronged or unappreciated or conversely entitled or superior, respect is hard to genuinely express or feel. Sometimes, with a lot of issues, the work starts within.

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