I was talking with a friend over the weekend and we got into a conversation about respect and how important it is to each of us that we are shown respect—and we quickly acknowledged that it is equally important to show respect to others.
Respect in my own life—a short story
This conversation brought me back to a time in my own life when my father demanded respect from me and my three older brothers. He was a strict disciplinarian from European upbringing, who believed with all his heart that he knew what was right for his kids (especially his “little girl”). The fact that he was raising his kids in the 50s and 60s, when the beatniks and the Beatles were a cultural revolution, did not matter much at all to him. His children were expected to do what he said, without any back-talk. So, there was not much room for expecting respect from my father—only to show it to him.
What I realize now is that I spent a very long time in my life working hard to earn my father’s respect. Each time there was a major transition in my adult life—my first marriage, my first divorce, my second marriage— I looked homeward for support. I would get the support I needed from my mother and, from my father I would get advice. What I should do, how I should be, who I should be, and a bit of, “if you had only listened to me in the first place…” Sounds a bit like “I told you so.” That never felt very good to me. Yet, I’d keep going homeward looking for respect for my decisions from my father.
Coming from someone who demanded respect from his wife and children, there was little reciprocation. I don’t blame him for that anymore—I forgave him long ago while he was still with us—because it was how he was raised in the 20s and 30s. It was a different time then. It was all he knew.
A respect—ful lesson
Today I realize that I learned a great lesson from this experience. I want to be respected for who I am, for what I know, for the work I do, for my accomplishments and for what I can offer others. In order for that to happen, I need to show respect for everyone else I encounter in my world. It truly works both ways. I believe if you mirror the behavior you want in return, it will eventually come to you—it may take some time but, it will come to you. For me, it took about 45 years to get the respect I wanted from my father! He was a hard nut to crack!
I may not always agree with all the people in my life all of the time … I may not always like what they do or say … but, I respect their right to think, feel or say it. This life lesson from my father taught me to be very tolerant of others and allow them to be who they are. That is a sign of respect. The choice is mine whether I decide to spend a lot of time with certain people if who they are or how they behave does not resonate with me. Making that choice is not disrespectful, it is merely a choice.
Respect in life situations
To bring this story back to my favorite topic—life transitions—there are many situations when respect can go out the window without even realizing it.
- In the heat of an argument with our parent or spouse, we may say something or use a tone of voice that shows little respect.
- When we are negotiating with our partner about a divorce agreement or how to manage visitations for the kids, things can quickly get out of hand if we are not careful.
- When we are talking with our boss about the fact that we continue to get work piled on us, there is no end in sight and no compensation for the extra hours and responsibility—we may say things that we could regret, disrespecting ourselves.
There are so many situations in everyday life when showing respect and being respected in return could make all the difference in the outcomes.
- What if that conversation with our parent or spouse was handled with a very calm tone of voice, conversational, cooperative—might the heated argument not even occur?
- What if the discussion with our partner about the divorce and the kids was handled in a similar way—calmly, cooperatively—perhaps things would not get out of hand.
- What if we held our tongue with our boss, or simply stated in a matter-of-fact tone that we are not sure how all this extra work will get done—might we hold yourself back from saying something we later regret? And, let’s not lose site of the fact that we can choose whether to continue to do all that work or find another job that serves us better.
Don’t forget, too, that in each of these situations we have the choice to walk away before we engage in something that is disrespectful and in which we will be disrespected. Walking away does not mean we are giving up or giving in. It simply puts some distance between us and the heat of the immediate situation, which allows all parties to cool down, get perspective and come back with a more respectful approach when we broach the subject again.
Remember the mirror analogy I used before? If we come to a sensitive situation with respect, it is more likely that our partner in the situation will mirror that approach. Keep trying—eventually we will get the respect we deserve. And if we never get it, we have another choice to make about our relationship with that person.
With my father I never gave up trying and, eventually, when he was old and gray I must have worn him down, because he finally said that he was proud of me and he thought I had a very good head on my shoulders. He never used the word “respect” but, I read between the lines.
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Chief Inspiration Officer | SafeHarbor Coaching | For women facing life transitions
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