What does it mean to be respectful? What does it mean to listen to someone? Does it mean to take their advice and do whatever they say? Or does it mean to consider their opinion, to strive to meet their needs, to engage in civil discourse, to be honest and humble, and to find as many areas of agreement as possible? Of those two options, I prefer the latter understanding. Respect is not just about showing deference, although at times it’s smart to be deferential. Most of the time, however, we can and should speak our mind freely as long as we do so respectfully. Can that happen, especially in the face of strong disagreements? I strive to make that case in today’s Provision.
It’s an unusually cold and beautiful snowy day here in southeast Virginia. It reminds me of my winters growing up in Cleveland, Ohio. As a kid, snowy days were a time for sledding, throwing snowballs, and making snow creatures. One winter we had enough snow for me to make an igloo out of the mountain of snow that had accumulated. Something tells me there’s a picture of that igloo kicking around somewhere in my parent’s attic.
There’s a big difference between how people respond to winter weather in Cleveland, Ohio versus here in southeast Virginia. In Ohio, the streets are plowed repeatedly in order to keep things moving. The attitude is one of toughness and defiance: no snow is going to get in our way. Here, in southeast Virginia, people have a more deferential attitude. Everything just gets canceled and people stay inside, hunkering down to wait until it melts. Instead of fighting back, there is a sense of rolling and flexing with the storm.
I mention this because there are some lessons here regarding the concept of respect, another near universal when it comes to the many Guidelines for Living that we are reviewing as part of this Provision series. Consider the following instances where respect is either implied or mentioned directly in those lists of the Ten New Commandments:
- Treat the Earth and all that dwell thereon with respect.
- Treat your fellow human beings, your fellow living things, and the world in general with love, honesty, faithfulness and respect.
- Show great consideration for your fellow beings.
- Honor your father and mother.
- Be kind, honorable and humble to one’s parents
- Do not covet your neighbor’s wife or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
- Never seek to censor or cut yourself off from dissent; always respect the right of others to disagree with you.
- The right to liberty.
- The right not to be tortured
That’s quite a laundry list of guidelines, interpretations, and connotations when it comes to the notion of respect. The range includes being deferential, civil, polite, considerate, helpful, honorable, humble, courageous, and free from fear. Although these various senses of the word conflict at points, one thing is certain: the need for understanding, acceptance, and respect is near universal in human relationships. It comes up all the time in our work as coaches, in both life and work settings. In fact, chances are good that you can think of at least one aspect of your life where respect is lacking (either because you’re not getting or giving it fully enough). So let’s explore the practice together to see if we can make life a little better in the end.
- Deferential. When I look at how people are responding to our snow storm, there is a great sense of respecting the power of nature. I have written about that for several weeks in light of the tragedy in Haiti. Whenever there is a power differential, respect comes to be interpreted as the one with less power deferring to the one with more power. Parents want that from children; bosses want that from subordinates; and nature does what it pleases whether we choose to defer or not. The greater the power differential, the more often it pays to be deferential. It certainly helps at those times to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”
- Civil and Polite. Much has been written about the decline of civility and good manners in society. The people in my generation, Baby Boomers, are usually credited with that “accomplishment,” thanks to our being the “first generation to be fed oversize portions of self-esteem and self-entitlement” (P.M. Forni, Civility Project at Johns Hopkins University). Dr. Forni notes that numerous “studies prove we are at an all-time low when it comes to being civil, to caring about what others think of our actions.” The result? Dr. Forni observes:
“If we cannot be civil, our quality of life deteriorates, society itself begins to fray and democracy is weakened. We get to the point where incivility escalates and crosses into violence. There are now some 1.8 million acts of violence in the workplace each year, the government reports•from one worker shoving another to actual fights and even killings. Many began because of a perceived slight, a small act of rudeness that spiraled out of control. We all have an incentive to foster civility because the higher the level of civility, the lower the level of violence in a society.” Let’s not have that happen. Let’s treat each other with respect.
- Considerate and Helpful. The dictionary defines “considerate” as “showing kindly awareness or regard for another’s feelings, circumstances, etc.” and as “having or marked by regard for the needs or feelings of others.” I learned that in Boy Scouts where I was charged to be “helpful, friendly, courteous, and kind.” We’ve see that kind of response in the wake of the Haitian tragedy and other natural disasters. But consideration need not wait for calamity. For at least 20 years people have been writing about and urging others to practice “random acts of kindness.” I’ve always liked that concept because it calls us to mindfulness. Acts of kindness are never random. They always happen by choice, and we can choose to be respectful or not in our relations to other people. When we pay attention to life, it’s natural to enrich life. That’s a wonderful sense of respect that I hope we can all bring to your daily lives.
- Honorable and Humble. I don’t know about you, but I am fascinated by the Muslim admonition to be “kind, honorable, and humble to our parents.” What an intriguing combination of words. I understand kind (it’s the same as considerate and helpful). I also understand honorable. If we hope to be respected then we have to be respectable. If we hope to be trusted then have to be trustworthy. I know parents who send their teenagers out for the night with the following admonition: “Remember who you are.” In other words, be honorable because your life is not just your own. When parents model integrity, it more naturally follows their children out the door.
The notion of being “humble to our parents” is more intriguing. That may just be another way of expressing deference, but I think it goes deeper. It’s possible to disagree and be respectful, but only if we’re humble. That’s the problem with political debates. Politics does not reward humility. It rewards bravado and certainty. We saw this in last week’s televised meeting between President Barack Obama and House Republican leadership. Accusations of being ignored, not listened to, and cut out were flying fast and furious at the same time as people were offering up their comments “with all due respect.” What does that mean? With humility it would mean, “I don’t have the answers and you don’t have the answers, but together we can find the answers.” I wish politicians could say that honestly without risking their political survival; I also wish that more families lived from that respectful frame.
- Courageous and Free. One thing is certain about that House Republican retreat: President Obama modeled the commandment to not “censor or cut yourself off from dissent” and to “respect the right of others to disagree with you.” He got plenty of that. The attitude of humility might not have been in the air, but there was courage and liberty. No teleprompters; just an hour of free-flowing questions and answers with many strong expressions of disagreement. Although people didn’t always have their facts straight, twisting them to their advantage as politicians are wont to do, they did by and large avoid character judgments and rude language. In other words, the meeting had a measure of decorum and civility. No one shouted out, “You lie!” They even laughed together, on occasion. That’s a step in the right direction when it comes to respect, and I’m glad it happened.
So let those guidelines inspire us to be respectful. At times, that will mean being deferential and giving way. We can’t always meet all of our needs at all times. Most of the time, however, we can be civil, polite, considerate, helpful, honorable, humble, courageous, and free without being disrespectful. Cultivating those attributes can make life better for us all.
Coaching Inquiries: What’s your commitment when it comes to respect? Would you say you model respect in all your dealings? How can you cultivate that posture as a strong and present value? What needs would it meet for you to do so? How can you carry yourself forward in that direction? Who would be willing to go with you on the trek?
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Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob.
Thank you for your most recent Provision on Property Rights and all of your inspiring Provisions.
I just saw your new book cover for Evocative Coaching. I love it! Congratulations on the book itself; can’t wait to read it!:) With peace, light and gratitude for all your wonderful stories from the heart. Your writing on honesty was very thought provoking!.
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
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