Reality Check: What does respect look like?

Communication is interesting. We come up with ideas—essentially pictures in our minds—that we want to communicate. Then we use words to share those ideas.
We tend to assume that everybody understands words the same way. Take the word “respect.” My understanding of respect may be the same as yours. Then again, it may be quite different!
I think that’s why some wise folks, Dr. Wm. Glasser among them, suggest that we base our understanding of others on what they do, rather than on what they say. Actions can indeed speak louder (and more clearly) than words.
But words are what I have here, so I will do my best to use them to explore the meaning of respect.
The word “respect” is like apple pie. Everybody loves it. (You love apple pie, don’t you?) Seriously, would anyone say that they want to be treated disrespectfully? Are there many mature individuals who would admit to deliberately disrespecting others?
Even though we may say and truly believe that respect is a great thing, what does that actually mean? That is, do our actions correspond to the word?
Jack is a young man who wants to feel in charge of his life. He has a strong need to perceive himself as a self-made, independent guy.
So even though Jack’s parents were prepared to lend him money to buy a car, he chose to delay his purchase till he had saved enough from his after-school job.
Finally, he had enough.
The car that Jack could afford was a little shabby; not exactly the coolest vehicle in his circle of friends. But he cleaned it out and shined it up and it looked pretty good for an old car. Most important to Jack, it was paid for, all on his own.
When Jack took his girlfriend Sara for their first drive in his car, she told him how much she respects his efforts to be financially independent from his parents. She’s so very proud of him.
Then, she tossed her coffee cup and trash bag into the freshly-vacuumed back seat. An uncomfortable twinge went through Jack’s belly.
Did Sara’s actions just speak louder than her words?
If you, like Jack, come away from an interaction feeling uncomfortable or down on yourself and you’re not quite sure why, you may find it helpful to analyze it from the perspective of respect.
How? Think about what respect looks like to you—what actions are consistent with respect? What words? What body language?
Then ask, was the interaction where you felt uncomfortable consistent with your picture of respectful treatment?
While we can’t control whether someone treats us respectfully, we can control how we react. If you perceive that an interaction wasn’t respectful, consider:
• Do I want to feel bad/mad/sad about being treated disrespectfully? Or do I want to choose a different reaction? (Ignore? Confront? Gently bring it to the other’s attention?)
• If I often feel disrespected in this relationship, do I want to maintain it as it is? Or do I want to make a change?
Do you ever feel disrespected? How do you handle it?

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