Let’s Talk About Respect
by Matt Voss
The playground bully just forcefully commandeered the tire swing. You try to look dignified as you brush the mulch from your clothes, but you know you’ll be finding it in your hair all afternoon. Your heart is thumping and your ears are burning hot as you limp to the tube slide to watch the lummox and his cronies spin. His horrid laughter suggests that he thinks he got what he wanted from you: your tire swing and your respect, but secretly, you’re hoping his wretched fingers get pinched in those chains.
The little jerk (or your current boss) may disagree, but the fact remains that respect can only be given; respect can never be taken by force. Earning real respect isn’t easy, but it’s pretty simple and plenty sexy: just be honest, true, and respectable. More on that in a minute, but first we should talk about what respect is not, and for that, we need not look far.
The culture tells us that we can fulfill our need for respect in a couple of ways, neither of which are real, lasting, or anything for which a loving mother would be very proud.
One way people try to get respect is through fear. In my recent Youtube wanderings, I saw a cell phone video of a young man treating an older man rather belligerently over an apparently fantastic seat on a city bus. The younger man postured and threw out some overly-aggressive, obviously empty threats in order to get the older man to show him the respect he thought he deserved.
The older man gave a warning, but chose peace and relinquished the seat. Feeling emboldened in his power, the younger continued to follow the older and even offered a little shove. It was then that the younger learned that a US Marine is a US Marine for life, and promptly had his rear-end handed to him by a man 40 years his senior. The younger learned two lessons that day: old does not mean feeble, and fear does not mean respect.
Respect is not the same as fear, though they can sometimes look the similar on the surface. Fear may get the tire swing, but it gets an eye roll as soon as the idiot’s back is turned. When the blustering boss leaves the room, everyone relaxes and goes right back to what they were doing (or worse). Real respect gets joyful, energetic compliance even when it’s not under the boss’ watchful eye, and it turns even enemies to frie… well, at least into less-bad enemies.
The other way the culture falsely tells us we can earn respect is by accumulating lots of stuff. Think of how people get all starry-eyed watching celebrities peacocking what they’ve got on the outside – hot women, loud jewelry, fast cars, and big houses – when in reality, if you take those pretty feathers away, they’re just a naked, squawky little bird.
The only things worthy of real respect come from the inside. They don’t cost anything but discipline, and they reside in the heart, mind, and character of a person. I should also point out that looking rich and being rich are two very different things, and they almost never coexist in the same person, but that’s another article entirely. To earn true respect, you want to simply be the type of person that garners the respect of others.
Here are a few simple ways to earn respect:
- Be honest. Always, and especially when it hurts. Real humility takes practice, but it will improve the quality of your daily life in ways yet unimaginable. Accepting responsibility for your mistakes and admitting your faults shows that you’re not hiding anything and that all of your cards are out on the table. This will put others at ease and encourage them to open up and trust you. “Never trust a perfect person and don’t trust a song that’s flawless” quotes the band 21 Pilots.
Secondly, learn to wield these two most-terrifying phrases, and they will be a faithful sword and a dependable shield in any battle. They are, “I don’t know” and “I am sorry.” Learn when and where to use them, and you will have jumped leagues ahead of the crowd. The three-part apology is a lost art that can open even the most thoroughly torched of bridges. More on that in a future article.
Lastly, humility hurts, and as it becomes a habit and more of who you are, you will find yourself making better decisions simply because you don’t want to have to own them later. If your mom were to see your internet browser history, would you have some ‘splaining to do?
- Be true. Your word is your bond, so make it mean something. Always do what you say you are going to do; do it often enough, and people will start to pay respect the words you say. It is far better to not make a promise than to break one, and this includes always being on time. Tommy Barnett says that if you’re five minutes late, you’ve told a five-minute lie; if you’re two minutes late, you’ve told a two-minute lie.
Your words are among your most powerful assets. The tongue is the rudder that steers your whole life. Do not use it to lie.
If the young man on the bus had really been prepared to live out his threat of inserting his foot into the rectum of his geriatric adversary -on a crowded city bus, no less- that would certainly make him a crazy person, but dang it if he hadn’t warned the guy.
The video doesn’t make it easy to pay much respect to the young antagonist, but then I’ve been under the assumption that he was bluffing; I guess we’ll never know for sure.
- Be respectful. Part of being respectable is being respectful. Be prepared to show respect to earn respect, and be prepared to get what you give. Jesus was on to something when he told us to love others as we love ourselves, meaning treat others as you wish to be treated.
In my favorite book, “Mere Christianity,” C.S. Lewis logically thought the first step to doing so was ascertaining how exactly he loved himself. He came to the conclusion that even though he sometimes did things that disappointed or disgusted him, he still managed to make sure that he was fed, clothed, and dutifully defended – to the death if necessary- in spite of not always being of a mind to even like himself.
I figure we should aim to be the sort of person we would like to meet. Do you like when others are polite to you? Then be polite. Do you enjoy a little depth to the drudgery of small talk? Then get creative and engage. You have to make friends to have friends, right?
There is always something to be learned from anyone walking a different path from yours, so remain open to others, and they will be open to you. If you want people to listen to you, try listening intently to them first. Dale Carnegie has an entire book entitled “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Check it out and try engaging people in a way that you would want to be engaged.
There is so much more, but mastering these three keys should keep you busy for a while. Focus every day on becoming just 10% better than the day before, and watch what life offers you in return. Everybody can give another 10%. Be honest, be true, and be respectful, and you’ll find that people will respect you for it.
Remember that an athlete doesn’t get stronger and faster by doing the easy exercises, but seeks growth through the hard ones. If any of these steps seem difficult or uncomfortable, you can be sure you’re on the right track. A comfort zone is a wonderful thing, but nothing ever grows there.
What do you think?