I’m writing this article because all too often people seem to misunderstand me when I say I deserve respect, or when I ask them for respect. The concept of respect has been very poorly, or dimly, lit for a long, long time. It’s played a role across many different faces. False faces. It’s been the cause of, and justification for, many acts of disrespect. People use the term respect in a lot of ways similar to the way in which people use the name of God to justify killing or cruelty. They take something so beautiful and good and spin it on its head until it no longer has meaning, until the concept itself is nonsense. This is why I am rather frequently met with eye rolls or huffs of irritation when I bring up respect. People don’t see it as a real thing anymore. It’s an overplayed stereotype, an overused phrase. It’s thrown around almost as frequently as the word love, and misused just as often. Most concerning, it is seen as having little meaning and little purpose. I am here to change all of that.
What is Respect?
Too often people misinterpret the word respect. A lot of authority figures in your life may use the word respect when they really just mean obedience. An angry father yelling at a child to be respectful and do as he says, isn’t asking for respect – he’s asking for obedience. He wants to control the child. On the other hand, when your mother is feeling touched out and asking for a little bit of space, and she asks you to please respect her request – she IS asking for respect. She’s saying “this is what I need right now, please accept that.” She isn’t demanding anything of you. Respect isn’t about asking someone to do something, it’s about making sure they don’t overstep your boundaries. It’s people accepting that you have needs, wants, opinions, feelings, etc. that are all your own. It’s asking people to accept who you are, even if they don’t agree with it.
Now, the above example scenarios could be switched (or used by any person in any situation). I don’t want to create a stereotypical sexist view of respect. It has just been my personal experience that males growing up with toxic masculinity tend to be more prone to forcing people to ‘respect’ them, when they are simply looking for a form of control; whereas women are often overlooked and thus dying for respect. I will say, though, even those acting out of toxic masculinity traits are ALSO dying for respect. They’ve just never been taught how to get it. Most people haven’t been taught how to get it. We are all told we deserve respect but not shown exactly what that is or how it works, and then we act out of desperation – using force or begging. Whether someone comes from a place of anger or sadness, and what is seen as strength or weakness (though often interpreted incorrectly in our society), all they are asking for is that you treat them with kindness and that you show them acceptance.
An angry parent just wants to be recognized for all that they do. They want to feel appreciated for all the hard work they put in. A sad parent wants the same things – they want to feel recognized and appreciated. Ultimately, all anybody ever wants is love. They want to feel they are worthy and worthwhile. Whether angry or sad, anybody asking for respect is asking for acceptance. The anger or sadness is flaring out from a lack of needs being met. And although it is never your place to make sure someone else’s needs are being met (unless they are your child), it is important to notice when needs have gone unmet and when someone is asking out of a place of desperation because of it. Respect, and ultimately kindness, is a small price to pay for someone else’s piece of mind. So, although you may not have to do everything someone asks of you – making sure they know you love them, that you care, that you accept them, and that it’s okay for them to take a moment for themself…will allow them to move forward and be able to do what needs to be done. Instead of perpetuating or exacerbating the issue. Stay calm, and act out of love.
Respect is honesty.
What are some ways to show respect? One way is to be honest with someone. Make sure you try your best to stay calm, and speak your truth. You can tell them that you see where they are coming from, that you understand their emotions, and literally saying you love and appreciate them and their efforts. However, it also means saying the things that aren’t easy to say. Saying things you’d rather run away from. Telling people when you recognize they’ve made a mistake. Telling your friend when you learn something awful about the person she’s dating. Telling your partner you have contracted an STI. Telling your grandmother the house is going to be foreclosed. Telling your best friend or mother that you disagree with them. No matter how amazing, or how shitty, if it’s relevant then they deserve to know. Don’t go just spouting random crap that might hurt their feelings like “Your face looks like shit today!” Wow, what an awesome person you are. But do be honest when your girlfriend asks, “Does this dress look okay?” If it really doesn’t, say so. But be loving and kind about it.
Respect is communication.
Another form of showing respect is by communicating. This can go hand-in-hand with honesty; and really doesn’t work if honesty is not involved, but it extends so much further than just being honest. Communication can be showing up for someone when they need you. It can be listening intently without interrupting, and just really soaking up everything that person has to say. It can be giving advice. It can be talking about what’s going on with you. It can be expressing your feelings about things, giving your input, providing feedback, asking questions to clarify understanding, as well as all the non-verbal ways in which you go about things. Turning towards someone. Eye contact while talking. Putting aside something you wanted to do, for something you need to do. Every action, reaction, gesture, and facial expression is a form of communication. Communication also includes love languages. And it includes making an effort to learn about yourself and others. To learn how you communicate, how others communicate, and how you can better communicate together. Communication takes a lot of work – you need to put in the time and effort. Even when…no…ESPECIALLY when it’s most difficult. That is a true sign of respect.
Respect is acceptance.
Acceptance is also a form of respect. No matter what your personal views are, or what someone else’s views are. No matter how someone lives their life. No matter who they choose to be. No matter what they stand for. You don’t have to understand it. In fact, you can hate it. You can be pissed about it. You can want to take to the streets in an activist fight about it. But, nonetheless, you still need to accept that person for who they are. They might change. They might not. They still deserve your respect. The least you can do is accept them. Just think about the fact that there are people out there who want to take to the streets in an activist fight against YOU, too. Everybody has a different perspective. It isn’t for us to judge whether one person is right or another person is wrong. We must learn to accept all, just as it is, in order to move forward. Change was never made through denying reality, it was done through accepting reality for what it is and choosing to do something about it. Don’t deny. Don’t disrespect. Accept.
Respect is intention.
Genuine, good hard work is done through thought and effort. Taking time to think things through, to figure them out, and to act on it. To put in the effort to back up your thought. Though intention alone is not enough, it plays a key role in deciding whether your relationships will be healthy or not. Intention goes into everything – every bit of honesty and communication. Every acceptance of reality. Without intention, it is just chaos and meaninglessness. Intention brings purpose. The purpose that you bring into your interactions, that intention, that is respect. You should be sure to use intention in all the things you do and say, and the ways you act.
Respect is consent.
I hardly feel like this needs to be said, but at the same time…it REALLY needs to be said. Without consent, there is no respect. You cannot truly respect someone unless you go about your relationship and all your interactions through the lens of consent. If they do not consent to something and you do it anyway, that is downright blatant disrespect. If you cross a boundary you know someone has, you are going against their consent. That is disrespect. In order to show someone you respect them, you need to make sure you are allowing for consent to be present in all moments you have with them. In turn, they need to show this to you, too. Consent goes both ways, just as respect goes both ways. You may not have to spend time with, or speak to, the people who you feel disrespect you; but you should still show them respect – especially through any and all forms of consent. Disrespecting others is not a way to get respect. And the disrespect from others does not justify your disrespect. Consent is necessary. Point blank period. It is a vital part of how we function as humans. Consent is respect.
Respect is love.
Appreciation of others. Care for others. Kindness towards others. Love is respect, and respect is love. You cannot have true love without respect. If someone does not respect you, but claims to love you, it is untrue. They may think they love you, but they are coming from a place of misconceptions. Often times when someone thinks they love you, but yet they disrespect you, it is because they do not love themselves. Which brings me to the most important aspect of respect: self-love. When you respect others – their boundaries, their lifestyles, their bodies, their existence… you are respecting yourself as well. You are showing that they matter, and that you matter. Conversely, when you love yourself you will make sure to show yourself respect, to make sure your own boundaries are upheld, and you aren’t taken advantage of or treated cruelly. You will stand up for yourself. You will see your true beauty. And in doing so, you will begin to see the true beauty in others, and understand the importance of respect – for yourself, for others, for everyone.
Once you truly love yourself, and are truly able to respect yourself…you’ll be able to respect others without disrespecting yourself. You’ll learn how to be honest, how to communicate, to accept, to always use intention, and how to love. You’ll be clear on your own boundaries, and be sure to be clear on the boundaries of others. You’ll live and breathe respect. Because self-love isn’t about being righteous. It isn’t about feeling like you’re better than everyone else, or you know more, or feeling like you are the most important person in the world. It’s about realizing your worth, standing up for that worth, and in turn, realizing the worth of others. That, my friend, is the true meaning of respect. It can be a difficult thing to master. But once you have, there is nothing better.