I find a lot of people speak about respect, but every few understand the concept fully. Many people mistake respect for deference, submission, or obedience. But it is far from being any of those things. In fact, a respectful person sometimes has to speak up in the face of authority, stand up to anther person, and rebel in order to maintain respectfulness. People who have lived with a lot of violence and bullying in their lives often hear the word only when it is being misused, and grow up with a very corrupt idea of respect.
So here it is. Respect is remembering that other people are free to choose to do as they wish. It is knowing that their attention is a kindness and their help is a gift. That you are not entitled to have them act a certain way, and that their time is their own to do with as they please.
Our time on Earth is limited, and so every minute of it is precious. We don’t even know how much of it we actually have. We cannot expect another human being to just give us their time. We have to ask for it, and do so in a way that shows them that we appreciate that they can choose not to give it.
That means every time you ask for something from another person, you should make sure that they are getting something back. It means you need to remember that every interaction you have with another person needs to be a negotiation, “if you give me your time, I will give you mine in return.”
With friends, we are happy to give and receive that time. We don’t keep score, and we fill that time full of laughter, kindness, companionship, and play.
With employers we give of our time, and in return we receive their time crystallized as money. We also expect them to give us guidance on how they want the job done, and to have clear expectations that we can meet. We expect them to make requests instead of demands if they need us to exceed those expectations. In return we do our best to meet their requests and expectations, giving them good work. A boss or client who makes unreasonable demands and treats his employees poorly often cannot pay enough to be worth working for.
With strangers, we show respect through forbearance: we treat them politely and leave them be. Unless we seem them harming o disrespecting others, we allow them to have the peace, quiet, and freedom that we would wish others to extend to us. And when they are doing harm, being rude, or disrespectful, we remember that they have the power to choose, and we ask them to choose differently.
With family things can be a little different, and sometimes people get very hazy on these ideas. When children are young, parents have to guide them to behaving well and taking care of themselves. Sometimes that means that we have to prevent them from making choices that will harm them, set up bad habits, or lead to unhappiness; even if it means making them do what we want, rather than as they choose.
There are many different ways a parent can do this, some are more respectful than others. I have decided to try my best to raise you to respect as many choices of your as I can. That means that I will always establish my rules and expectations clearly. I will try my best to listen to your feelings, and teach you how to express them. It means giving you options based on what I think is best, rather than telling you what to do, and remembering that as a child, your job will be to learn and become an independent person, not to do what I tell you, and sometimes that means our agendas will clash. I will try my best to see things from your perspective and make win-win compromises. Not an easy task, when a harder style might make things easy for me… but your mind and spirit, not to mention your freedom are important to me. I will make sure to respect you as best I can.
And just as it can sometimes be hard for parents to show perfect respect for children, it can be hard for children to completely understand and respect their parent’s freedom. After all, we have a responsibility and a duty to take care of you. We brought you into this world as a helpless infant, and so we have no choice but to raise you until you are ready to stand on your own. It is hard to look at your parents and see that they have choices, or to imagine (without utter terror) that they might choose differently than to care and parent you. And the better, kinder, and more loving a parent is, the harder it can be sometimes to remember that they are beings who choose to parent and choose to love and provide for their child… it just seems natural that they should love and provide.
It is a mark of great maturity when a young person comes to understand that their parents have a choice about how they care for and provide for a child, and that child starts make a real and conscious effort to reward that choice.
Whomever we are dealing with there are tools that we can use to make sue that respect guides our actions. The first is Etiquette, the rules ofbeing polite and well-mannered. These are not just a set of arcane and arbitrary rules of what is considered “nice”, they are customs we have evolved that are there to say “I know you are a human being an you deserve to be treated well. I will follow a set of rules that we use to do just that as a start. Good manners are about remembering that other people have the freedom to deal with us or to ignore us, and making sure that if they choose to deal with us, the experience will be pleasant.
The second is Empathy, the skill of reading another person’s feelings. When we try to understand how another person feels and thinks, we are reminding ourselves that they are not just objects. If we understand what someone needs, and we still choose to ignore it, then we have made a clear choice towards the end of disrespect.
The third is Character, when we build a set of good habits, good attitudes, and good thoughts to guide us, respect becomes easy and automatic to us. People can see our character in our actions and our bearing. By being a person of substance, we let other people know by the very way we behave that we will treat them well.
The fourth is Assertiveness, a way of talking and acting that always tries to give people the most choice, while stating our needs and expectations, and that challenges us to always create a win-win scenario. It is something I will teach you at a very early age. When I was about the age I expect you will be when you receive this letters, Nova Scotia was experimenting with teaching it in school, and I was lucky to get classes in it. Unfortunately, that kind of education is rare today.
Son, know that I love you, and I have done my best not just to teach you to be respectful, but to treat you with respect. And I understand that I will not always be perfect in doing so. And that there will be times where you will forget that I am free, too and parenting you is a choice that I have made. You are loved and you are wanted, and every thing I do for and with will hopefully reflect that.
With Honour and Respect,