Respect: A Two-Way Street

Respect is defined as “esteem or deferential regard felt or shown.”

I am aware that some believe certain individuals or groups of people should be automatically treated with respect. I find myself questioning this belief.

Recently, I have worked with a family where the parents have expressed concern about not being respected by their children. They describe how the children do not comply with requests and do not follow house rules. The parents feel disrespected because the children do not comply with their expectations. Is there not a way that a child can disagree and still be respectful? Because one is a parent, must one be automatically respected? 

I encouraged these parents to consider the possibility of needing to earn respect rather than be entitled to it. We explored ways of establishing ways they wanted their children to behave and finding ways of handling disagreement.  In effect, the parents learned to ask, rather than demand. They also reflected on their feelings when the children did not agree with a request. Giving up the expectation of automatic compliance was a big step.

One woman described being talked to rudely by a superior in a business meeting. Out of respect for her seniority, she made the choice to express her views about how she was talked to privately with the woman rather than address it in the meeting. 

She said that co-workers had challenged her choice to confront the woman as an act of disrespect. The woman told me she recognized the superior’s role in the company, but did not feel it automatically compelled her to accept how she was treated.

A student told me that he asked his teacher a question. The teacher responded by saying, “I already explained that. You need to listen.”  The student felt diminished. When we explored the interaction, he said he found himself distressed because he had been taught to respect all teachers, and he felt very hostile toward this one. We explored the contrast of a teacher earning respect versus automatically deserving it.

I thought about a lot of settings where we can choose to behave respectfully. As we sit in our cars and observe people wanting to exit a parking lot, we can choose to stop and let them in. When we check out in a supermarket, we can place a divider after our items to allow the next customer begin to place items on the conveyer.

Respect can be an act of kindness, a way of recognizing a person in our lives. It can be very fulfilling to allow ourselves to be respectful or kind because we choose to be rather than because we are expected to behave in a certain way.

 

Dr. Natalie Gelman is an Alameda-based therapist. Submit questions to drnataliegelman@gmail.com or through her website, www.drnataliegelman.com.