If you wish to form meaningful relationships with people you cross paths with, you would be aware that rapport would be one of the major factors that influence the quality of the relationships. I would argue that meaningful relationships can only be formed one way... With mutual respect.
Easier said than done
However, the fact that everyone is different makes it easy for us to forget a fundamental fact: In spite of differences in seniority, social status, financial status, gender orientation, we are all human beings. It doesn't matter if one belongs to the powerful majority or the discriminated minority, you would still have heard BOTH sides demanding to be respected: "I have more/less in life, therefore I should be given more respect."
Truth to be told, respect is a simple yet profound value. Some may argue that the way respect is defined depends on culture and varies based on the community's demographics. But I disagree. While the way that we display and convey respect may differ, I would argue that Respect is more of an attitude and less of an act.
I would never forget how I was "scolded" by a senior teacher for addressing him by the first name when I was a beginning teacher. As this teacher does amazing work with the use of technology in teaching, I remember how excited I was when I was introduced to him by my HOD then.
"This is 'Steve'. You must have heard of him." said my HOD to me as he introduced us to each other. "Hi Steve, I am really excited to meet and learn from you," I responded, perhaps with too much excitement.
For the rest of the few months, I have always addressed this senior teacher by first name – Steve (which, by the way, is not his real name). The reception that I got from these interactions were always cold and I wonder why I seem to always irk him despite our brief and infrequent exchanges. This continued until one fine day where the truth was revealed.
"Hi Steve, is it a good time to... " I begin but was interrupted mid-way.
"Roy, who are you to call me by first name? Even XX addresses me as Mr Lim, what makes you think you can call me by name. The number of years which I have been teaching is close to your age so show some respect."
Then there was this awkward silence in the staff room. It must have been a tough day for Mr Lim. We always have those days. It is one of the most humbling experiences that I had in my teaching career.
Perhaps more prominent in our Asian context where respect for elders is a celebrated value, there are strong social expectations of how respect should be shown. While such teachings are great (for it encourages the inexperienced to be humble and receptive to learning from the experienced), it can distract us from the value of respect and end up placing too much emphasis on the act itself.
At times like this, it may result in damaging and unhealthy expectations which can cause relationships to be strained or even be formed in the first place.
I am thankful for the experience for I learnt of better ways to act when treating others, especially people of higher seniority. At the same time, I have also learnt how not to act in future should there be a role reversal.
How to Respect?
When we treat others with respect, it does not involve (1) lowering yourself to the level of others – this is just condescending, or (2) making yourself appear smaller – this will encourage the formation of an unhealthy relationship. It also does not mean that we will always react in ways that are to the other party's liking. After all, as we previously discussed, the best intentions do not always yield the right outcome.
In my opinion, showing respect involve the genuine appreciation of the other person as a "fellow unique human being". I would think that the best form of respect is displayed in the form of a kind appreciation for others. Face others with the intent to understand them and be kind. As simple as it sounds, it is VERY challenging.
As cliche as it is, we should remember that respect is not a finite resource and the more we give, the more we gain. Interestingly, when we demand more respect, we get less. Of course, should we be treated with disrespect, we should not suffer in silence but learn how to communicate amicably to the other party. Just like me, that disrespectful chap couldn't have known better at times!
It took me some time but I am happy to share that Mr Lim and I had one of the best relationships. When I left the ministry to pursue my startup, Mr Lim was one of the few colleagues who gave me a parting gift - a lovely Garmin watch to remind me to stay healthy. Despite having left my school for some time, Mr Lim still periodically sends me updates on tech tips (he is really the pro in the field) which could help me in my EdTech startup (check out https://learnd.online)
Respect is a two-way street. It matters less who took more steps as long as both parties are moving towards each other.
Just simply respect other human beings.
Thank you for reading! Looking forward to your thoughts and sharing. Have an amazing day and stay safe. ✌️