Bridging the Divided

Respect: Implicit or Earned?

Is respect implicit or earned? Is it one or the other? Can it be both? An internet search offers differing opinions.  

Most of us grew up taught to respect our parents and elders. But what if there was nothing about a parent or parents worthy of respect? Is it assumed we must respect them simply because they gave us life? 

One definition of respect is that we care enough to think about how our words and behaviors impact others. Do we stop to think about how another feels during less-than-pleasant interactions? Does this hold true for interactions between parents and children, however old the children may be? It should. If I am being honest, I can’t say that I gave my children much to respect at various times in their lives. Should I expect implicit respect just because I am the parent? I don’t think so because my words and behaviors hurt them regardless of our roles. After much thought and soul-searching, I absolutely disagree that we should respect our parents simply because they gave us life despite anything that is said or done to us. I think we should expect the words and behaviors from ourselves and others to be respectFUL when interacting, however. 

Do we all share the same definition of respect? Certainly not. Our definitions of respect are formed and influenced by our personalities, cultural context, and emotions. During interactions one may believe respect is implicit, it is given automatically, and the other may believe respect must be earned, or respect is a combination of being given and earned. So, the one believing in implicit respect will interpret the other believing respect must be earned as disrespectful. Common ground and compromise may be lost altogether because of individual interpretation. How many relationships are broken because of different definitions and expectations of respect?

What about earning respect? Everyone starts on the same level of the playing field with me, as far as I am concerned. They move their way up or down based upon our interactions and how they treat others and me. I may maintain relationships with people who, in my view, dropped a couple of notches on the respect scale – I just don’t hold them in the high regard I once did. They can earn back my respect but it won’t be easy. Trust was broken, feelings trampled. And, I expect the same of others towards me. I do not expect implicit respect from others, especially my children, family, and close friends.

Respect, in my opinion, is implicit and earned. Implicit because I respect everyone and everything’s right to exist. Every human, animal, or plant. Every spirit is God-breathed and worthy of respect for that reason alone. At the same time, respect must also be earned. No one has the right to speak or act as they please toward others and expect respect. 

Interactions are a two-way street. Interactions with others require us to understand everyone has their own definitions and expectations regarding respect. We cannot allow our personal standards for respectful speech and behavior cloud our interactions. Aren’t we passing judgment if we are measuring others against our personal standards? Are we worthy to pass judgment on others?  It has been my experience those demanding respect are not respectful of others in words or behavior. Isn’t that a bit lop-sided?

We cannot truly listen from the heart while we are judging the speech and behavior of others. Are we judging the words and behaviors of others as disrespectful when in fact they may be coming from a place of pain or fear or both? We won’t see or hear the pain and fear when we are standing on our lofty perch demanding implicit respect for ourselves…..

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