Respect me!

Lately circumstances around me made me think about respect. Whether it is earned, given, demanded, or not and who decides? What it looks like to all involved. How some of the rules of respect I grew up with have changed completely and actually made little sense in the first place. What new model and guidelines work better now, regardless of who you are or how old you are. What is really going on behind the feeling of being disrespected or acting without respect.


I once facilitated a conflict resolution sessions at an Old Age Home in Bishop Lavis near Cape Town. The tenants were not wealthy and most of them received SASSA grants (government pension) as their only source of income.

I expected shared living, loneliness, boredom and residual anger against the injustices of life to feature strongly in the sessions. I was wrong. Respect or rather the lack thereof, was the main point of contention, grief and animated discussion.

All the general issues of why conflict ignites were imbedded somewhere and could possibly be unearthed and explained with lots of time and patience but the most obvious was sadder and closer to home. I don’t feel seen or heard, therefore I create conflict because negative attention is better than no attention.

The smallest slight was experienced as disrespect. This created a vicious circle of greeting, not greeting. Including some and excluding others without telling them the reason why. Completely ignoring each other to the point of not calling for medical help when someone was in need of attention. Back to square one, amplified, intensified and backed-up with new evidence of disrespect, less direct communication, stonewalling and a lot more gossip. After a patient focus on behaviours and practical examples and requests for what respect meant and looked like for anyone regardless of whether you were 65 or 85, we developed a lovely set of guidelines that everyone agreed to implement. Respect needs to be made visible if you want to change behaviour and ensure that intention and experience are aligned.

The guidelines focused on practical gestures, empathy and patience. As simple as: if someone doesn't greet you back, don't assume they are ignoring you, they might not have heard you. Walk up to them, look them in the eye and say; "Good morning!'. No anger, no resentment and no assumptions.

Although this happened in an Old Age Home, just imagine the implications and change in atmosphere and productivity if we all felt respected and included wherever we are.

Next time you feel disrespected, hurt, angry and not seen, think about:

1. What behaviours from other people make you feel respected?

2. What makes you feel disrespected?

3. Do you feel disrespected or rejected?

4. How do you feel if you are being disrespected?

5. Why does this bother you?

6. What behaviours do you see and value as respect?

Some examples to help you: Is respect being greeted, being included, being asked for permission, the way you are addressed, being acknowledged in decisions?

Be clear about this because you can only influence others to treat you with respect if you can give people actual examples of how you would like to be treated.


7. How do you show your respect to other people?

8. Have you ever discuss what respect means to you with the people around you?

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