For years, I have been designing ways to develop in school children the ability to see a situation or issue from different perspectives. Over time, I have found this helps in making them less judgmental and critical, and more amenable towards accepting of differences. They hold opinions, of course, often defending them vociferously, arguing and exerting themselves to explain their thinking. Even so, conceding a point comes with less dissatisfaction and greater appreciation of others’ viewpoints and ways.
It’s a wonderful thing to witness when kids demonstrate that it is okay for someone to not agree with you, that there may be more than one way to look at an issue, with several viewpoints being valid depending on the perspective these are presented from. Here comes acceptance, not merely tolerance, mind you! The underlying quality that I strive to nurture in such exercises is simply respect.
Here’s the Trouble!
In the adult world, however, this acceptance and respect seem to have little place. Among strangers there is naturally a space – a wall of non-familiarity – that is misconstrued as respect. Sadly, more often than not, not even this false respect is demonstrated by the people closest to us: family, siblings, spouse, children, friends, and colleagues.
During serious discussions over given topics, I haven’t often heard my 11 to 16 year olds in school resort to statements like, ‘You need to get your head examined.’ ‘You need therapy.’ ‘You are insane.’ ‘That’s so stupid of you.’ ‘What’s wrong with you?’ ‘You will never make it.’ ‘You are completely wrong.’ ‘You’re not normal!’ ‘You’re crazy.’ Amazingly enough, as adults, we often hear these statements from those closest to us. It’s tragic that there is such a fundamental lack of respect between people.
Respect – Is this it?
What respect has come to mean in our world is: ‘If you don’t agree with me, you don’t respect me.’ ‘If you don’t do what I tell you to do, you don’t respect me.’ ‘If you argue with me, you don’t respect me.’ ‘If you don’t behave the way I expect you to, you don’t respect me.’ ‘If you don’t make the choices and decisions that I think you should, you don’t respect me.’ ‘If you are not meek and pliant, you don’t respect me.’ ‘If you do not obey, you don’t respect me.’ ‘If your words, beliefs or actions contradict mine, you don’t respect me.’ ‘If you raise your voice or change your tone, you don’t respect me.’ ‘If you don’t like what I am saying or doing, you don’t respect me.’
Respect – What it Really Is
Respect. Do we even know the dictionary meaning of the word? Well, here it is: ‘A feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements. Due regard for the feelings, wishes, or rights of others.’ Notice that nowhere in these definitions does the conditional ‘If you don’t….’ as described above appear.
When you respect someone, it isn’t about you. It’s about accepting the other person and honouring them through this simple act. This does not mean that there are no conflicts between two people. Day to day contact will invariably give rise to challenges and conflicts. There will be times you rub each other the wrong way or push each other’s buttons. Such things are inevitable, bred from the contexts and situations of our lives. These have little bearing on respect for each other. Respect is about striving for complete acceptance of the other person, not despite differences, but because of them.
Practicing Acceptance – It’s Difficult!
Practicing acceptance appears to be deceptively simple. It is not. In my experience, it is one of the most difficult things to train yourself for. The tendency to sit in judgment over others, to be convinced that you are the know-all and fix-all, to think that you can handle things better than the other person for the situation they are in; these are the ways of non-acceptance, and therefore, disrespect. This is not to say that you agree with everything the other says or does. If you are truly concerned, take the time to understand and present your side. If you still end up disagreeing, accept the difference of opinion without name calling. Neither taking the time, nor striving to understand, while rejecting the other person’s ways is not what closeness is built upon.
Acceptance and Respect
Is there anyone who has the right answers to everything? Is there anyone who can handle all situations for the most desirable outcome? Different people hold different beliefs and ideas. We all think and act in unique ways. If someone takes action with due consideration and that action is vastly different from what we might, or make choices and decisions that may not be the same as ours in a similar situation, should we say they are insane, crazy, need therapy or are seriously abnormal? Do we pass judgment on others because they do things differently or hold different beliefs or opinions?
Can we not accept and respect their ways? Is it not possible that we respect the fact that they did not deviate from whatever they held to be right within themselves? When we tell someone they are ‘real’, that they should be themselves, that they are independent in their thinking, how come we don’t backup our words with actions? How come we jump to judging because they demonstrated those qualities we complimented them for?
Be Yourself – Never Apologetic about…
By the time my children pass out of school in a few years, I hope they will have learnt to respect themselves and others by not being apologetic about:
• Sticking with personal beliefs.
• Being different.
• Not falling in the category of ‘normal’.
• Not meeting others’ standards for what constitutes the right decision, action or thought.
• Being themselves.
Maybe we adults will take a leaf out of their book.