It would be difficult to hear the word “respect,” or see an article about respect, and not think of the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, who sadly left us recently at age 76. Aretha had an extraordinary career, winning 18 Grammy Awards and selling more than 75 million records worldwide. Of course, her signature song was entitled, “Respect.” And the most familiar phrase of the song is:
R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me
Let’s explore this a bit more, shall we?
How Do We Show Respect For Others?
So how do we show respect for others? What does respect look like? How do we know it when we see it? How do we recognize when it’s absent? Well, there isn’t space to mention all of them or even most of them, but here are 6 ways to show respect for you to consider and hopefully put into practice.
Listening to what another person has to say is a basic way to respect them. Everyone wants to have their say. Everyone wants to feel that they’re being listened to. Whether they have something profound to say is not the point. People want to be heard… period. When you give another person your time and your focus and your ear, you validate them. Which conveys respect.
The provision of human rights begins when those who have not listened to a particular segment of society begin to listen. All social change begins with dialogue. Civil dialogue. Until you listen to another person’s concerns, you will not know who they are and what’s important to them. Respect begins with listening.
When we affirm someone, we’re giving evidence that they matter. That they have value. That they’re important. And that they’re worthy of respect. Simply affirming someone virtually guarantees that you respect them. To affirm someone, you just have to notice something positive about that person and verbalize this observation. “You’ve shown great determination over the past 2 years to get your business off the ground.”
“You were incredibly patient and understanding when dealing with that difficult situation.” “You make me smile every time I see you.” You may not respect every aspect of who they are and what they do, but you can give them appropriate respect at the level that affirms them. Affirmation is a key way of showing respect to others.
English-American poet W.H. Auden once said that, “We are all here on earth to help others; what on earth the others are here for I don’t know.” Life on earth is about serving others. In fact, our professions, our careers, and our jobs should revolve around a desire to serve others. To give back to others. To use our talents and abilities to make life better for others.
Serving shows that we care. And caring shows that we respect. Serving is an important element in showing respect.
4. Be Kind
Though kindness and service are first cousins, they aren’t identical. We can serve without being kind. But it’s very difficult to be kind without serving. When we’re kind to someone, we’re giving of ourselves. We’re giving something they can use. Maybe something they need. Maybe something they need desperately.
Kindness is an expression of respect. Respect for the fact that someone else is simply in need. We have all been in need. And what a relief it was when someone showed us kindness. Kindness is a tangible way of showing respect.
5. Be Polite
It’s appalling to witness the decline of politeness in the modern world. Whether it’s on the highway, at the grocery store, in the parking lot, on the athletic field, on Facebook, or in political rhetoric – polite discourse and interaction is rapidly becoming a lost art. Yet, it’s so easy to be polite. And it’s so inexpensive too. An act of politeness can literally change a person’s day. It can even change a person’s life.
It can lift their spirits instantly. It can help them press on through what may be difficult. Some cultures in the world are known for their politeness. Other cultures are known for their rudeness. Which communicates respect and which doesn’t? If you want to show respect for someone, start by being polite.
6. Be Thankful
If William James was right, that human beings crave appreciation, then thankfulness is the way we affirm it. When someone does something for you that’s beneficial. Or they say something to you that’s helpful in some way. Or they honestly affirm you in some way that’s important to you. You should thank them. Again, thankfulness is becoming increasingly rare in our world.
I hold the door for people, and they walk right past without even seeming to notice. I let people out into my lane of traffic so they’ll save time. They look at me as if it’s their solemn birthright. I help people in other ways that I’m certain was valuable to them. Yet I hear nothing in the way of thanks.
Why Respect Is Important In Life
What’s so great about respect anyway? Why does it matter in the grand scheme of things?
1. Showing respect is the right response in a civil society.
One of the characteristics of a civil society is the showing of respect to fellow citizens. The conviction that other members of a family, a town, a city, a nation, or a region of the world are worthy of respect. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris in 1948. Its goal was to grant status worthy of respect to all human beings everywhere. No human being is exempt.
Showing respect for human life and human beings is fundamental to a civil society and civil world.
2. Respect affirms those worthy of respect.
When we respect others, it affirms their right to respect and their worthiness of respect. On the other hand, when we withhold respect from others, we imply they are unworthy of it. This can trigger a decline that is exceedingly difficult to arrest and end. Once it is generally believed that a certain race or ethnic group or nationality or skin color or gender or age is unworthy of respect, the flood gates open for abuse. We’ve seen this many times in the past two centuries in particular. The natural and logical outcome of the removal of respect from particular classes is first rejection, then discrimination, then abuse, and ultimately genocide.
It starts with a lack of respect. It’s another reason why respect should be common among all peoples everywhere, and why respect is so important.
3. It encourages behavior that’s respectful.
When someone is living in a way that brings them recognition, honor, and respect, it encourages their living that way. Not always, but usually. Behavior that’s rewarded tends to be repeated. Or, put another way, “What’s rewarded gets done.”
Whether we wish that behavior worthy of respect would be common without encouragement misses the point. It’s simply human nature to do what gets rewarded and shy away from what doesn’t.
4. It provides a solid foundation for relationships.
There should be serious reluctance to maintain a relationship that does not offer respect. People don’t like to be treated badly. People don’t like to be demeaned, devalued, dishonored, and disrespected. If a relationship lacks respect, it is almost certainly an unhealthy one. Toxic relationships nearly always have a lack of respect as a common element.
Meaningful, healthy, and mutually-beneficial relationships show mutual respect. It’s fundamental.
5. Without respect we lose heart.
Respect is so basic to human well-being that in its absence, people don’t thrive. They don’t need to have respect from everyone – but there are certain people from whom respect is virtually mandatory. The father of modern psychiatry, William James said, “The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” Those who are not appreciated do not feel respected. It’s disheartening.
The history of the struggle for civil rights throughout the world is the struggle to win respect from others. The American Founding Fathers expressed it in the United States Declaration of Independence this way:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Respect for human beings entails the granting, preserving, and protection of these rights. Without respect, these rights will be missing. And if these rights are missing, respect will be missing too. They exist together.
So, we’ve seen what respect is. We’ve seen how to show respect in practical ways. And we’ve seen why respect is important. Hopefully we not only see that respect is an important aspect of life, but we see why it’s important to show it consistently. Everyone is due respect by virtue of being a human being.