Respecting all their facets

In principle, when we respect ourselves, we have the basis to show respect to others and we will be shown respect in return. However, if we take others at face value, this principle does not work in practice. Taking people at their word is misleading. Seeing people as they appear is getting deceived. Trusting people to behave as they always do is naive. Showing respect can even backfire on us and teach us the real nature of respect.

If you've had experiences like I've myself, you've tried to show respect to people who hold themselves in contempt. The respect we show gets taken wrong. It's reduced to being nice to them when they are convinced they don't deserve it. They hold us in contempt like they do to themselves. We appear needy, insecure and unaware of how they feel about themselves. They believe that no one with self respect would come onto them with a show of respect. Self respect would replace acting nice. There would be no need to manipulate their lurking contempt if it was respected.

We are doing much better at showing respect when we see people as two faced and conflicted. We can respect the fact that they may be putting on an act that hides their true feelings. We can respect their need to be pretentious in a world that cannot accept them as they are. We can respect how they may feel inside is not how they come across on the surface. We can respect what appears as calm as really covering irreconcilable urges.

When we respect there's more to them than meets the eye, they feel somewhat respected. They have not misled us or played us for the fool we appear to be when taking us at face value. They feel it's safe enough to tone down their defensiveness and reveal some of what's real for them. They feel some connection to what lives behind our own masks. They get a sense of who we really are, where we're really coming from and how if feels to be in our experience of them. They respect us in return.

We respect the fact they may not deserve respect for how they act. We don't show respect for the act they perform to fool us. We respect that their show does not show themselves in depth. We respect that we are only seeing a side that hides the rest. We signal to them that we appreciate their show.

All this goes far deeper than taking people at face value or gaming people with our act. We cannot go deep like this when we sense we are in danger. We're designed to be hyper-vigilant about the obvious threats and cut out the deep reflections when we've got a sense of trouble ahead. We know we are putting ourselves in more danger if we ponder the hidden significance behind the obvious evidence to trouble.

This means we respect our own needs for safety and vigilance, as well as respecting our real intentions, values and priorities. We need to respect ourselves as two faced for good reasons too. When respect our ability to react to danger and to go deeper too, our self respect is real. Then we can really respect others and it will seem authentic to those on the receiving end of our show of respect.


  1. That's why we first need to listen to understand.

  2. Harold
    Thanks for making the connection to listening. The big challenge with listening when being held in contempt is to disregard the danger of getting our feelings hurt and our instinct to close our minds in the presence of hostility.

  3. Wonder if you're familiar with Adam Kahane, author of Solving Tough Problems, who advocates first listening for understanding. Great little book. I wrote about it a while back.

  4. Harold:
    Thanks for the link to your post and the book. I am not familiar with Kahane but I'm glad to find out about his work. I agree that piecemeal solutions will not work when imposed top-down with a divide and conquer strategy. Yet I think piecemeal works beautifully when it's long tail, free agent, bottom up, cultural creatives combining their individual initiatives.