What "Respect" Looks Like


Respect is one of the most important words we can know.  We feel it when we read or hear it. We know its significance when we use it.  And, as the 18th century icon, Adam Smith said, “We desire both to be respectable and to be respected.”  The positive view formed on how persons are living their lives is the stuff of respect.

But as important as respect is, it’s interesting that the word itself no longer shows up with the same frequency it once did.  Google Books Ngram searches of its data bases of printed books, indicates usage of the word “respect” is the lowest it has been in over three centuries.    

Now is the perfect time to ask ourselves how we conceptualize and demonstrate respect.

Respect is Not Fear

Respect and fear are sometimes intertwined when it comes to how they are perceived, however the two are very different.  You may think you respect someone or something you fear, but this is not true if insecurity, distrust, or chaos also exist.

The following statements help confirm the difference between respect and fear:

  • A respected person commands respect, but their respect is never commanded.
  • When you admire a person and what she stands for, she commands your respect.
  • Recognizably honoring a person or cause demonstrates your statement of respect, or your desire to show respect for what others value.
  • If you deem another person worthy of respect, you can find personal inspiration in that person.  
  • Qualities, deeds, values that attract and draw us to a person also call us to make these our virtues.
  • Respect is not earned by making people fear us, but by their naturally admiring us. Admiration by fear is coercion.
  • We can always be afraid; we only earn respect.  Fear repels; respect attracts.

Putting it Into Practice

Respect in action is as simple as living by The Golden Rule.  You can test this by asking yourself:
“Am I treating others the way I would want to be treated?”  
“Are my actions admirable, honorable?”
“Do my actions make others feel cared for, valued, and important?”

Practicing respect looks, sounds, and feels like:  

  • Listen, really listen, to what others say.
  • Give your attention to those you interact with.
  • Offer encouragement and support for the best in others.
  • Acknowledge that another person wants to speak and be heard.
  • Put yourselves in someone else’s shoes to enable compassion, which sometimes is friendly silence.
  • Recognize and honor the difference among what’s mine, thine, and held in common.

Each of the actions above demonstrate that respecting others is simply treating them as you would want to be treated.

Does Self-respect Come First?

It’s a “chicken and egg” question.  Learning to respect yourself does not happen apart from learning to respect others.  Other people are necessary in complex social mirroring and feedback processes.  

Every human being has intrinsic value and discovering this is a lifelong uncharted journey.  We respect ourselves when we find, define and accept our own worth and value.  

Self-check on self-respectful actions:

  • Am I consistently being honest with myself?
  • How am I doing with my learning and self-education?
  • Am I taking care of myself, treating myself well?
  • Am I taking responsibility for my own conduct?  
  • Do I self-assess and work to eliminate bad influences or habits in my life?
  • Do I give myself time to clearly articulate how I feel?
  • Am I able to give myself an “A” for good manners and proper conduct, realizing that how other people react to me can be signals that I need to reevaluate and make changes?

Showing respect for yourself and others is the core of etiquette.  It is a simple word, but holds more meaning than the majority of other words in our language.  As George Matthew Adams wrote in the Sacramento Union on March 21, 1913:
“Respect is the name of the Fellow who tends door for your Conscience.  He is the most sacred Office in life of your Character…Respect is your most faithful of Friends, your greatest Guide, your most powerful Protector, your safest Pilot into Port.”

“A person is a person no matter how small.”  ~ Dr. Seuss

You may also enjoy reading . . .