I’ve been thinking about the word “respect” today. I love words. They have so many meanings and contexts. In particular, I was thinking about how we show respect to the people in our lives.
Of course, there are those whom we pretty much have to respect: our bosses, law enforcement personnel, the IRS auditor, our teachers, students, and our cats and dogs. When we were young, most of our parents demanded respect. “Obey the rules.” “Do what I say because I say to do it.” “Clean your room.” “Eat your veggies.”
What about friends and family members? How do we show respect to them, or do we?
Do we think carefully about what we say or write before we do it? Do we take their needs into account as much as we do our own?
Living in a fast-paced, technologically-oriented world, the days spin by faster than we can count them. Email, instant messaging, texting…all these take up more and more of our time. I think most people expect instant replies to messages and even to phone calls.
There was a time when if I didn’t get a response to an email within 24 hours, I started wondering what was wrong. Then I would turn that wondering inward and wonder if I had done something wrong. It was a vicious circle. The more I worried, the more I got depressed thinking that the person must be mad at me, upset at something I’d done or was just plain ignoring me.
It took me a long time to figure out that it isn’t about me. None of it. That doesn’t mean I didn’t (and still do occasionally) upset people. I do. But people have their own lives to live, and just because I don’t hear right back doesn’t mean they don’t care.
How often, I wonder, when a person asks for something from someone else does the person doing the asking consider the impact of that asking on the other person?
How many times, I ponder, do we project our own expectations onto the people in our lives?
In other words, if you ask someone a question and you don’t like the answer, do you show that in your tone of voice? Do you ever make judgments about someone’s life based on the answers they give to the questions you ask?
I have done all of the above.
And I don’t want to anymore.
I want to learn to respect people for where they are in their lives. I want to be the kind of person who stays calm during conversations and doesn’t get emotional or angry or frustrated. I want to be a rock in people’s lives — a rock to whom they can turn for advice, a pebble that they can toss across the water in fun, a person who makes them feel good.
Just because I don’t agree with someone doesn’t mean I don’t care. It also doesn’t mean I’m a bad person. It just means I don’t agree. Just because you don’t agree or approve of something I do or say doesn’t mean you have the right to tell me how wrong you think I am.
I spent most of my life as a person afraid to express my feelings. I thought that if I showed people how I felt they would judge me and go away. I was afraid of being alone. I was afraid of being lonely.
If I stay focused and calm in my spiritual nature, I believe I can express my feelings in a way that doesn’t trample someone else’s reality.
In the same way, if I concentrate on helping others and on respecting their boundaries and opinions, I think I become a better person.
Look at your pet or pets. I have two calico kitties who (mostly) respect each other. When one gets in the way of the other, the first one usually moves. They chase each other up and down the hall, wait patiently to be fed, and they both have their spots next to me in bed. Recently, though, Annie has been trying to steal Bootsie’s spot. Bootsie waits until Annie is settled and then comes in on the other side of the bed to sleep in her new spot. I like that.
Respecting others doesn’t mean giving up who I am. It doesn’t mean that I’m not entitled to my opinions or that I expect others to agree with them. It does mean that I am learning to respect myself, probably for the first time in my life. (I’m a slow learner.)
And that is something worth waiting for.