Rodney Dangerfield always opened his comedy act with the comment, “I don’t get no respect.” His riff would continue pointing out the myriad of ways that respect was not paid. It was amusing but never answered the question of how does one get respect?
It’s no laughing matter despite poor Rodney’s protestations. Respect is a foundational aspect of communication. If it is absent either in individual relations or international affairs the likelihood of meaningful exchange is remote. If it is present then the possibility of dialogue exists.
In today’s national climate there seems to be an appalling lack of respect. It has been replaced by name-calling, innuendo, slander, mistrust, and this past week, vulgarity of the highest order. Not only have those characteristics overturned respect, they are being encouraged as if this were a reality show. Many have, in fact, been driven off the island.
Is there any hope that civility can replace chaos, the respect can reappear? Is it important or just a ruined relic of what was once part of the fabric of relationships? Well, it should be important and unless the need for respect is recognized we probably can expect a continued slide into slime.
Where does respect come from? It does not magically appear; it has to be earned . . . and it can take a long time in growing into the foundation required for honest dialogue. There are four fundamental building blocks on which respect must be built.
First, is honesty. One would be hard put to name a person, an institution, or a nation that is respected in the absence of honesty. Out of honesty comes a sense of trust, the belief that what you see is what you get and it can be relied upon. Absent that, extreme care must be paid in sharing important information, valuable emotions, or sensitive material. When there is no credible basis for trust based on honesty, then respect is not due.
Second, respect, once earned requires careful listening. Everyone has had the experience of realizing that the person with whom you are talking is scanning the room for a more interesting, more valuable conversation. Equally apparent is when you are aware that you are being heard, truly heard. When that happens, then respect is being paid and the conversation may bear fruit, whether it involves only two people or heads of state.
Third, when differing views are being discussed, respect can be challenged. That doesn’t mean there will be agreement but it does require that acceptance of differences does not preclude important exchange. When voices are raised in repeated defense of a personal position, there is little chance that will result in mutual understanding. Respect for a different opinion will be much more likely lead to progress than battering down an alternative view.
Finally, all of these must be accompanied by a demeanor of courtesy. Without that, particularly when in its place there is abusive and demeaning language, inattentiveness and refusal to see the issue from the other’s perspective, then courtesy is replaced by rudeness.
There are many other principles that help respect be born and nurtured. Unless and until we learn how to cultivate respect in our individual lives as well as in our corporate economy and governmental affairs, there will be no limit to the depth in to which we might sink.