Monday, June 17, 2013

Like vs. Respect

A while back, I was asked if I liked a certain person I don't know very well. I thought about it, and responded, "I like them, but I don't respect them." For me, there is a definite difference.

It is much harder for someone to earn my respect than my like. I like just about everybody, but I definitely don't respect everybody. My respect is reserved for people who I feel are above me in terms of their character or their accomplishments. Liking people is about enjoying their company, respecting someone is about wanting to be like them. The two don't go hand in hand. I like some people I don't respect, and I respect some I don't particularly like.

(Quick disclaimer: This is not referring to the basic respect I should give people on the basis that they are human, or treating people with dignity and respect as a general rule. That's not what I mean. This is the kind of situation where I would think of someone and say, "I have a lot of respect for them.")

What makes me respect someone? These are a few qualities that will always earn my respect:
  • The willingness to admit when you are wrong. This is a biggie for me, and I respect it in others even more because I have trouble with this myself. Someone who can admit when they're wrong (and, further, someone who's even willing to consider they might be wrong even if they're not sure), is someone I have a lot of respect for.
  • Thoughtfulness. Going out of your way to make others feel welcome, safe, and loved is a huge plus.
  • Genuine listening. If I can have a conversation with someone and feel like they are actually listening to me and trying to understand me, it doesn't matter if we agree or disagree at the end, I will respect them.
  • A willingness to think well of others. This doesn't mean being stupid or oblivious if someone's being a genuinely awful person, but I have great respect for people who think well of the people around them until proven otherwise. (It was one of the things that first drew me to my fiance.)
Really, these all connect for me. I think, really, most of them have a common thread: humility. A person who is humble can admit when they are wrong, and graciously puts others ahead of themselves, and considers other people's thoughts and opinions as important as their own, and doesn't jump to assumptions that others are bad people.

Those are the people I emulate. They are the people I try to learn from. They are the people I respect. I can only hope that some day I will be able to be like them.

What qualities make you respect people the most?


  1. I think I define what you term "respect" as "admiration", and I only say that because you yourself made the point that what you're addressing here is a separate context from basic respect. So with that in mind, here are the qualities that I admire/respect in people:

    Compassion - "There, but for the grace of God, go I" is a defining part of my outlook on life. It's why I get squeamish about a lot of what passes for humor. It's why I hold the political views that I hold, and it's also at the center of my faith. Jesus wasn't concerned about those with the power to help themselves nearly as much as He focused on those without that power. It's how we treat the lowest among us that defines us, as individuals and as a society. I truly believe that.

    Honesty, specifically about unpleasant topics - It's easy for the average person to be honest about benign or upbeat topics, but it takes a certain fortitude to be honest about less savory ones. This can be a confession, or telling me when I've said or done something they dislike for some reason. I have no patience or use for sycophants.

    Diplomacy - All too often, people think that "the truth hurts" is license to be hurtful about the truth. I reject that wholeheartedly. One can be tactful while still being honest. There are some people who feel that anything less than borderline cruelty constitutes "sugarcoating". I'm not one of them. It takes a certain blend of compassion and honesty to be diplomatic, and that blend escapes a lot of people.

    I think these qualities, like your list, fall under the umbrella of humility. That's probably why I admire/respect you, actually. The last quality that comes to mind, though, is not necessarily a demonstration of humility. In fact, at times it probably defies humility.

    Speaking up - This is difficult for most people, and I'm sure it's absolutely terrifying for someone as introverted as you, but I really do admire people who use their voice, especially on behalf of others. It does require a certain amount of chutzpah to do this, and sometimes that's at odds with humility.

    I don't require this to be a major demonstration to impress me. Sometimes it can be done quietly and privately. Sometimes it isn't even done verbally at all, but through another method. However it's done, I admire those who aren't content to permissively allow the world to run amok without so much as an objection.

    There's a Garth Brooks song called "The Change" that was written about the emergency responders who were there at Oklahoma City after the McVeigh bombing. The chorus asserts:

    "I hear them saying, 'You'll never change things
    And no matter what you do, it's still the same thing'
    But it's not the world that I am changing
    I do this so the world will know that it will not change me"

    I dig that. I really like the concept that success isn't defined by whether or not we change the world, but by whether or not we've let the world know that we're in disagreement with it. And in that way, I suppose there is some humility to speaking up.

    1. This is a good list. I am really impressed when people have managed to find the right balance of all of these - honesty and diplomacy especially are hard to get right.

      I think compassion might be the one that best ties everything together in your list. A compassionate person can speak up to defend the people around them, and be honest instead of hiding the truth, and do it all diplomatically.

      I am always fascinated by what qualities people admire and respect in others. It says a lot about who they are and what they think would be the best version of themselves.

    2. I feel a bit remiss at not having mentioned a nuanced sense of humor. I used to say a "good" sense of humor, but everyone thinks their sense of humor is good. Then I started to specify being able to find the humor in most things. But then we got an entire generation of people who grew up with comics on basic cable making tasteless jokes about sensitive subjects while hiding behind the "there's humor in everything" shield. So now I specify that I admire/respect/enjoy a nuanced sense of humor that doesn't just argue that there's humor in everything but is thoughtful enough to actually find it.

      Or is nuanced enough to know when it hasn't been found and to let it go, which is even harder for a lot of people.

      One little anecdote that I thought of after I commented concerns the nature of humility. I'll never forget someone once saying that they sat in on a cabinet meeting when George W. Bush was president. They were taken aback when, in the middle of the meeting, a topic came up and President Bush just openly said he didn't know what they were talking about.

      It's easy to make jokes, of course, especially of a public figure with a reputation for being careless and thoughtless, but I remember the person recounting this emphasized how truly remarkable it was that the leader of the free world could so comfortably admit his ignorance like that. That struck a chord with me.

      Some time after that, I was assigned a new doctor at the university hospital where at that time I was treated for Crohn's. Being a teaching hospital, my doctors there were always student doctors. The young woman they assigned to me then was very reassuring and I quickly took a liking to her. In one meeting, I had a question about something and she did not hesitate to tell me she didn't know the answer but that she would find out. She did, within a few minutes. I think it was hearing that bit about President Bush that made me so sensitive to that moment but that really impressed me that she was comfortable enough in her own skin to admit she didn't know and to find out. Others might have tried to bluff their way out of it, and I've seen that with some doctors.

      My current physician is the same way. She's never once tried to convince me she knew anything more than what she knows, and she's always made a point to find the answers to my questions if she didn't already have them.

      I've made a point to adopt this myself. In the past, I might try to go as far toward answering as my limited knowledge might allow and then try to bail on the subject or switch to a new topic but ever since I became conscious of this, I've made more of a point to just say, "I don't know" when I don't.

      Which brings me to an off-topic question that I may explore in my own blog at some point and that's how poorly we've answered the question, "What next?" in regards to making changes to our behaviors. We've still got a lot of people who are obsessed with the idea that admitting ignorance is tantamount to advertising weakness and capitulation. How do we get to a point where when someone says, "I don't know", the other person accepts that at face value instead of interpreting it as a "loss of attrition" for the one who doesn't know the answer to the question at hand?

    3. That's a tough one for me, actually. I know a lot of things, and sometimes that translates in my mind into "I have to know everything." It's hard for me to say "I don't know" or "I don't understand" without feeling somehow ashamed, like if I don't have this one piece of knowledge I'm just outright stupid - obviously not true. It's one of the many reasons I didn't do very well with speaking up in class, because I didn't like to respond to something unless I knew the answer. In my mind it's always equated to failure (something else I don't deal with well).

      I think the nuanced sense of humor is a good point, too. I *do* think there is some humor to be found in everything (I am a big fan of laughing about my own misfortunes), but it has to be found with a sense of compassion and care for those who may not find it a laughing matter.

      I've been reading a lot of blogs lately where people have responded to triggering comments or blog posts by honestly admitting, "That joke was triggering to me and your attitude toward it reminds me of abusive situations I came out of." One blogger I had a lot of respect for lost much of it when he responded to that comment by saying essentially that she was out of line by comparing him to abusers in her past. When he found someone who had been hurt by his words, instead of apologizing for the hurt and being careful about how he phrased things in the future, he got defensive about it and assumed that if people had been hurt by it, they took it the wrong way and it was THEIR FAULT.

      When people are hurt by jokes, that was seldom was the joker intended. Obviously they wanted to make us laugh, not feel hurt or insulted. Whether or not the joker changes the kinds of jokes he makes in the future may or may not be necessary, but regardless, the way he deals with those who disagree and do *not* find it funny says a great deal about whether or not he has the maturity needed to tackle subjects of a dark nature comically.

    4. I used to feel the same way you do about not knowing something. Part of it, I think, was from watching teachers put students on the spot. If you didn't have the answer, that was met with disapproval. "Maybe you should have done the reading," a teacher might chide. I think there's an invisible scornful teacher peering over my shoulder at all times.

      But, as I've made a stronger effort over the last several years to work on my sense of humility, I've found a certain peace that goes with the confession that I just don't know the answer to the question at hand. Sometimes I go looking for it. Sometimes, it's about a subject I don't care about in the first place and my knowledge in the area isn't important to me at all anyway so I don't bother.

      As for defensive jokers, that's a shame about the blogger you mentioned. That kind of reaction is the least helpful he could have had. I entirely agree with you about what it signifies about him. It seems that the "comedians" most insistent upon controversial humor are little more than petulant kids whose parents should have broken them of playing that infuriating "I'm not touching you!" game when they were children. Instead, their parents likely told the annoyed sibling, "Just ignore him/her" and the lesson that was learned wasn't that being a jerk is unwelcome, but that no one wants to hear complaints filed against jerks being jerks. I hate those parents with a specific and undying passion because their kids are everything that's wrong with the world.

      I remember that atrocious Comedy Central Roast of William Shatner several years ago. There were humorless vulgarities abound throughout the night, but by far the most offensive "joke" came from Lisa Lampanelli. Commenting on Shatner's diversity, she said that he was an actor, a director, a screenwriter, a novelist, a singer and songwriter and then she added that the quality of his work was so bad that "Your next project should be a suicide note."

      Apparently, in her research about Shatner, she had failed to catch that his previous wife had committed suicide. Or she knew and she just didn't care. I felt especially bad for Shatner when she said that. I didn't like Lampanelli before she said that, but I've actively hated her ever since and I have no intention of ever forgiving her for that. Absolutely despicable.