The word ‘respect’ is often used to describe the admiration we have for someone because of who that person is.  It is commonplace to say we respect a particular individual because of that person’s abilities or qualities.  We may also think of respect in terms of something that is considered valuable. However, respect is much more than this. It is often recognized, when there is a deficit of respect, and when we speak of someone who lacks civility or refinement.

In a recent book, Respect is Only Human: A Response to Disrespect and Implicit Bias, I pointed out that respect is highly devalued in our society, particularly in recent years, as civility, or the way we interact courteously with others, is often overlooked and often thought of as old-fashioned.    In its place, disrespect thrives.   Disrespect is rampant in many relationships today – at home, in the classroom, in the workplace, in organizations, wherever people interrelate with each other.  In other words, in our everyday relationships, we often dispense with the niceties, particularly if we think that we are in a better position that the others with whom we are relating.  We often forgo being courteous and considerate of other people’s feelings, and instead use disrespect as the basis for our relationship.

As noted, it is respect that is the basis for harmonious relationships among people.  When we fail to be civil, when we disrespect those that are different from us or who hold different ideas, what we are really doing is disrespecting ourselves, and accepting that we do not have the quality of humanity that distinguishes us from beasts.

The Rise of Disrespect

There are many ways in which respect has been co-opted, and where disrespect now reigns supreme. We often fail to show empathy, compassion and kindness to others.  We also fail to show respect to things that are important, such as our environment, people who differ from us in terms of race or ethnicity, religious ideas, or political affiliations. Instead of recognizing that we as humans should be courteous and empathic towards others, we become disrespectful in dealing with others who differ from us.

What is interesting, though, is that disrespect is sometimes blatant, where everyone is aware of the disrespect that is being displayed, but all too often, we turn a blind eye. Sometimes, disrespect is manifested in a hidden or clandestine manner. We often see disrespect manifested in implicit race bias, implicit sex bias, implicit gender bias, implicit disability bias, implicit religious bias, and intolerance to any type of difference.

Dangers of Disrespect

For some of those who may be in the mainstream, who are privileged, and who may not be seen as different, disrespect may seem as the expected and the normal way of behaving.  For those who are different in any number of ways, disrespect could be shattering.  It could not only humiliate, embarrass, or depress those who are different, but it could lead to loss of self-esteem.

But for those who are different and who embrace their difference, the damage may not be as impactful.  However, for those who believe they can be disrespectful without any consequences, they are fooling themselves.  When we disrespect others, we disrespect ourselves and really see ourselves as less than who we really can be. For organizations, for example, that do nothing to end the disrespect within their ranks, they suffer too, because they fail to get the best out of their employees, whether these employees are mainstream or different.  We all lose, our society loses, when we allow disrespect to be a way of life.

Individuals Embracing Respect

One of the ways to embrace respect is to tell ourselves that respect is something to which we should give high priority.  Since respect is seen as the glue that holds relationships together, then we must look at the ways that we can show others that we are concerned about them and their feelings.  By embracing empathy, that is, by trying to understand others’ feelings, we must first try to understand our own feelings.  We know what upsets us, and think of the things that we do that may cause others to be upset.  But by putting ourselves in the place of others, we will be on our way to treating others the way we would want to be treated. 

At the same time, there are differences among people, based on the personality, emotions, preferences and cultural contexts and backgrounds.  In order to have a better understanding of how other people feel, we must engage in dialogue.  Speak to other people about situations and see how they feel about these.

There are times when we may offend others by what we do, although we may not be aware of the cause of the other person’s annoyance.  At this time, it requires us to engage in dialogue, asking questions, and finding out how people may respond differently.  While some things are obviously disrespectful to some, to others it may not be.  This does not give us the right to offend others by taking the position that if something does not offend us, it should not offend others.  It therefore makes sense for us to have conversations with people who may look differently from us, who may hold different religious and political ideas from the ones we hold.

Dialogue and Empathy 

Then, taking the position that we are different and that to get along, we have to recognize that we all have the right to believe what we do believe.  In this way, we can empathize with each other, recognizing that we may have the same feelings regarding our beliefs as others have about their beliefs.  This then becomes the foundation for civil behaviour and for respect.  Let us make 2022 the year of Respect. 

Strategies for Ending Implicit Bias and Promoting Respect

Individuals as well as governments, organizations and institutions can all play a major role in promoting respect and in ending implicit bias.  By genuinely promoting dialogue about sexism, racism, and other implicit biases, by ensuring that our relationships with others and with employees are based on respect, with no bullying of employees by their bosses is excused, we will be well on our way to dealing implicit bias a death blow.  Many strategies for children, youths, and adults also exist for addressing implicit bias.  While some of these strategies involve simply changing the way we engage with others, other strategies are more complicated and involve managers and employers being intentional about making changes to eradicate implicit biases.  Many of these can be found in the book Respect is Only Human: A Response to Disrespect and Implicit Bias.

Strategies for Ending Implicit Bias

The said book also provides many strategies that individuals as well as organizations and institutions can take to spell the death knell for implicit bias in its many manifestations.  While some of these strategies involve simply changing the way we engage with others, other strategies are more complicated and involve managers and employers being intentional about making changes to eradicate implicit bias.  However, what are needed are a whole new understanding of what respect entails, a better appreciation of how disrespect has boldly invaded our spaces even from childhood, and a strong commitment to making respect once again supreme, something to be admired.


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