Respect means a lot of different things for different people. It includes taking someone’s feelings, needs, thoughts, ideas, wishes and preferences into consideration. It also means taking all of these seriously and giving them worth and value.
In fact, giving someone respect seems similar to valuing them and their thoughts, feelings, etc. It also seems to include acknowledging them, listening to them, being truthful with them, and accepting their individuality and idiosyncrasies.
Respect can be shown through behavior and it can also be felt. We can act in ways which are considered respectful, yet we can also feel respect for someone and feel respected by someone. Because it is possible to act in ways that do not reflect how we really feel, the feeling of respect is more important than the behavior without the feeling. When the feeling is there, the behavior will naturally follow.
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Going back in time, respect played an important role in survival. If we think of a small tribe wandering in the desert we can imagine that a person not respected by anyone could be left behind and die. Such a person was considered to have no worth, no importance, no value to the group.
Nowadays it seems much more possible- to survive without being respected. Someone could, for example, inherit a large sum of money, have many servants and employees and have salesmen constantly calling on him and catering to him, yet not be respected in the least. Someone could also make a lot of money through having a particular talent which is valued, such as being able to dunk a basketball yet not really be respected, perhaps because of the way he treats others.
When we are respected we gain the voluntary cooperation of people. We don’t have to use as much of our energy and resources trying to get our needs met. When people respect one another there are fewer conflicts.
In summary, it is for both evolutionary and practical reasons that respect is important, and also why we simply feel better when we are respected.
Respect seems to be like a boomerang in the sense that you must send it out before it will come back to you. Respect cannot be demanded or forced, though sometimes people mistakenly believe that it can be commanded.
Showing and Earning
If respecting someone means respecting their feelings and their survival needs, then if a person does not respect your feelings, they don’t respect you. If those in positions of power and authority do not respect your needs and feelings, they will not earn your respect.