Saturday, April 27, 2013

Respect - Right and Reward


Everyone wants it. Not everyone gets it. And ... sad to say, not everyone knows how to give it. 

"Find out what it means to me," go the lyrics of R-E-S-P-E-C-T sung by Aretha Franklin. 

Find out indeed. 

There have been some frank discussions in our household over the years about respect. Some believe it's their right; others believe it must be earned. Who is right? Who is wrong? 

Both beliefs, I'd venture to say, have a little truth to them.

Respect - the Right
Every human being has the right to be treated with respect. This is a basic, "do no harm" respect that recognizes that no matter who the person is, how much money they make or don't make, where they live or don't live, what their skin color, race, religion, or sexual orientation, regardless of how others feel about any of those things, this individual has the right to have an opinion, be heard, and not be mistreated. 

It's easy to treat someone with respect when he or she agrees with you. However, let that person espouse a belief (be it religious, political, sports-related, lifestyle-related or whatever) that is diametrically opposed to yours, and what happens? That's a gauge of how much fundamental respect is there. 

This kind of respect comes into play in everything from the way you treat your boss to the way you treat the person in front of you in the grocery store checkout line, from the way you treat your employees to the way you treat the person who serves you coffee at your favorite coffee shop. Courtesy, respect, and acceptance are some of the foundational rules of engagement for any relationship - no matter how superficial ... or how close ... it happens to be. 

This kind of respect can best be understood by thinking of property lines in the suburbs. Everyone in the suburbs lives on a certain parcel of land - usually 80 x 100 or 100 x 150 feet. People's property lines abut against each other. If you are respectful of property lines, you wouldn't (at least I HOPE you wouldn't!!) dream of walking your dog and cutting across my property as a short-cut to get where you want to go ... not unless you'd cleared it with me in advance and agreed to pick up your dog's mess along the way. That's showing respect. 

It's the same with personal boundaries. Everyone (within the bounds of legality) has the right to his or her own choices, opinions, and actions - as long as those do not infringe on the right of others to have their own choices, opinions and actions. 

And that means that those same people have the right to bear the consequences of those choices, opinions, and actions: not those of others, but those that they themselves choose, think, and do. 

That's basic respect. Everyone needs it and everyone has the right to expect it.

Respect - the reward
One thing and one thing only can erode and destroy respect. 

It is a lack of trust.

If someone has proven - through consistent action - that he or she cannot be trusted, then trust must be earned back before those people (who were lied to or deceived in some way by this person) will be able to respect and accept what he or she says. 

Honesty is oxygen for trust and for respect. If it is lacking in someone, trust and respect for that person will become weak - and eventually die. 

For many years, while my husband was in active alcoholism, lies were a way of life for him. Over the years, my trust in him, in what he said to me, wore away, got weak, and died. It got so I mistrusted everything he said to me, not just about "not drinking" but also about so many other things. I was suspicious of everything - literally everything - that he said to me. Especially when he told me he loved me. It was a horrible time for me ... AND for him. 

I often thought about leaving the relationship, it was so unlivable. It didn't mean that I didn't love him; I did. It was just that I couldn't stand the constant lying. The lying - to me - was way worse than the alcoholism itself (even though that was awful enough!) 

When he first got into recovery, (as did I - from trying to control and manipulate people or let them walk all over me - never a happy medium!) he embraced a new way of living which demanded rigorous honesty.

Although I really hoped that he would be able to stop lying, I was skeptical. I didn't know if he could. I was never sure that he was telling me the truth. For months, he patiently went about proving to me that what he was saying to me was true... even to the point of showing me receipts for items he'd purchased, allowing me access to see his bank account and credit card usage, and keeping a breathalyzer in the car. He kept on keeping on, in spite of my disbelief. He gave me permission to "call" him on areas where I knew he wasn't being completely honest ... which I did at times. When I did, he was fairly quick to recognize the error, or explain in more detail what he meant, so as to clear up any misunderstanding.  And during that whole time (and ever since) he did what he had to do in his own private recovery journey, so as 0to develop and maintain his spiritual condition. 

"Serpentine Pathway Stones On A Park Lawn" courtesy of arturo at

The process took months - about 15 months to be more precise. As he proved himself in one instance, it was like a paving stone in a walkway of trust. Every paving stone increased the strength of that trust. Respect was the reward for all those little stones - my respect for him. 

I'm  happy to say that - although it took many months of consistent honesty on his part - I did indeed learn to trust him again, and with that trust came the respect I had lost. I am so glad to have it back - and so is he!

Occasionally someone in my life will destroy the trust and respect I've come to have for him or her. Though the relationship might be a different one, and have different rules, the process of rebuilding that trust and respect is the same. And, the key to building that back - the lesson I learned vicariously through my husband's experience - is that it takes a lifestyle change and consistency in behavior and in intention before such a precious commodity can be restored. 

Basically put, it takes more than words. It takes attitudes and actions over time. Sometimes a long time. 

When I have broken someone's trust, and I have on occasion, it takes a lot of time and effort to gain a hearing with that person. Often, it's frustrating to know you are telling the truth and you still are not believed.

I keep the following things in mind when I know my motives to be pure.
  • Gaining the respect of others is absolutely impossible without self-respect.
  • Seeking the respect or approval of others can be a trap because it can lead to chameleon-like behaviors, changing who I am to fit in, and therefore a loss of identity. 
  • The more comfortable I am inside my own skin, the less it matters what someone else thinks of me. 

One thing is certain: it takes far less time to destroy trust-based respect than it does to rebuild it.  This one fact is one of the reasons why, in my own life, I seek to be scrupulously honest and trustworthy. 

I can't afford not to be. 

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