Respect: The Two-Way Street

Showing and giving respect is something we do so regularly in our social interactions with others that it’s often forgotten, only dwelling beneath the surface of our conscious. We will all have experience with both being respected and being disrespected, giving respect to someone and disrespecting someone.

We, as human beings, are naturally wired for social interactions and who & what we respect is something that has been imprinted on us by life experience. The combination of these two things creates a complex filter which we use to interact with others throughout our lives. Sometimes people desire respect where it is not given and at times it is given where it is not deserved. Respect is a two-way street which will certainly pay to understand a little bit better.

20171002_121358.jpgWe often hear varying iterations of the phrase ‘Respect is earned, not given.” or the like.  I feel that these kind of sayings always fall short of portraying the depth or challenges of how we should treat others or even just the concept of respect. It seems to be extremely challenging to create a ‘silver bullet’, one concrete rule that we can apply to everyone, when it comes to showing or receiving respect. It’s very subjective.

We meet a lot of people who are worthy of respect whom do not meet our criteria for respect. Likewise, we meet a lot of people who are not worthy of respect who have met or criteria for respect. In this way, the process of giving respect can be complex and is often deeply personal. There are certain traits that we put a far higher value on in a person than others, and this will directly influence how much (or little) we respect them.

When we prescribe respect to another person, we are essentially saying that we approve of this person and the value they add to our lives. Respect, in most western cultures anyway, creates certain social protocols that we follow among people that we hold in different levels of esteem (people we respect more and people we respect less).

I find it really interesting to see the different social dynamics between groups of people, how they show respect to others and how they treat people on different rungs of their ladder of respect. It seems that in our modern cultural context, respect is spectral. There seems to be a clear spectrum ranging from people we disrespect to those we hold the highest respect for. Even though this spectrum can be subjective (it will differ depending on who you ask), it seems to hold true.

Personally, I don’t believe that we should give respect to someone purely on their status or our own. Just because a person is richer (or poorer) than myself, has a better (or worse) job, is a better (or worse) athlete, will not solely dictate whether I respect said person or not. We gauge a person’s character, their actions & interactions with others and other factors as criteria for prescribing respect.

Just remember, others are doing this too. People will look at you and they will judge you, there is no way around that; it’s biologically programmed into us to weigh up people and gauge whether they are friend or foe.

Despite what many “Only God can judge me” tattoo wearing people may think, judgement is not necessarily negative. Judgement is what we as human beings use to prescribe respect to one another. Most people who reject or bemoan judgement are also the ones who have mainly negative judgements prescribed to them because of behavior or traits perceived as negative by others. For instance; when someone is alarmed by the fact that they are “surrounded by assholes”, it is only because they do not possess the traits that make a person capable of identifying that they themselves could be the asshole, generally being disrespected by their peers who judge the person’s behavior as negative.

Humans, as social creatures, encourage positive behavior among each other. When someone displays traits that others perceive as positive or constructive to society, they will prescribe respect. The exchange of respect is essentially a social currency, with each of us leveraging our value for different purposes. Some may not even look to pursue respect, but still act in a positive way, which inadvertently brings them respect… as you can see it can end up becoming a bit semantic at this point…

I think at the bottom line, it is important for us to understand that respect is complex. I think the most important thing to remember is that even though we walk our own journey and live our own lives, we can choose to other make positive impacts on others’ lives (and gain respect as a result) or we can make decisions that may negatively impact on others’ lives (and lose respect as a result.) Either way, the street still flows both ways.


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