« Prejudice against the rich and powerful | Main | How cooperation (eventually) trumps conflict by Robert Wright »

If it caught on it might be the formula for a revolution

[This entry is not a story, but a beautiful essay by David Bradley that fits brilliantly with what this blog is about. Enjoy! FL]

It doesn’t matter if you like me, as long as you respect me.

-My Father

From our earliest days most of us were coached to accept that it is important to earn the respect of others. I was taught to earn it by conducting myself in ways that deserve respect, usually meaning being trustworthy and honest in my dealings with others. I have tried to live my life accordingly.

Interestingly, the root of the word means to ‘look again’. Literally then, to be respectful is to be willing to look again at someone, to see beyond our first impressions and to hold our gaze in order to get a clearer sense of who is with us at any given moment.

Everyday we crisscross destinies with many people. This ranges from the intimacy of waking up next to our beloved to the casual nod towards the person in the car next to us at the traffic light. In these many daily intersections with others, even with family and coworkers, we often do not take the time to ‘look again’. We share air and space with a whole host of people, most of them unknown by name, yet with whom we have much more in common than we might think, each of them, like us, needing and wanting respect.

I would like to suggest that respect for others should not come at the price of passing a litmus test to determine if they are worthy of it. We have to be receptive to both the idea and possibility that respect is not something earned but rather something given, unconditionally. Mother Teresa, one of the most respected people of our lifetimes, did not judge people worthy of respect by how many good deeds they did or did not perform. To get her attention, to earn her respect, you simply had to be there. She transformed other people by stipulating on the first encounter that they were worthy of respect no matter what.

A key element of respectfulness is receptivity. Receptivity, as the psychologist Rollo May described it, “is holding oneself alive, open and nimble enough in order to let one’s self be the vehicle of whatever may emerge from the circumstances of our encounters with others.” Like an artist before the canvass, we have to let the picture come to us. To be receptive we have to look again and see who is before us and be open, not without risk, to a more complete picture of others.

This time of the year that often evokes a sense of reverence from us, as we look back on a year gone by too quickly as we begin to make resolution to do and be better next year. Reverence is a term too strictly reserved to describe behavior in the presence of something sacred. Perhaps it would be helpful if we could be less selective about what we consider sacred.

Paul Woodruff, the author of the book Reverence, Renewing a Forgotten Virtue, states that reverence is an antidote to hubris, the misuse of power over others. Reverence is a quality along with justice that the noblest heroes made manifest in their interactions with others, even those that they had defeated in battle. The conquered became the revered.

Although we may not be personally going around conquering others these days we may be doing so symbolically when we do not give others the reverence that they are due simply because they are before us.

Reverence is like an unexpected and soothing balm on the open wound of fear and prejudice. It’s the startled look you get when you hold the door for someone when they do not anticipate you doing so.

Respect is given not earned. This could be a dangerous theory. If it caught on it might be the formula for a revolution. Imagine a revolution of respect for others based solely on the fact that we are here together.

The revolution would be unique in that it would require a disarming rather than a stockpiling. It would demand a relinquishment of our own tried and true defenses.

Make no mistake, the course would be laden with danger and uncertainty. Receptivity requires vulnerability, a risky and dangerous posture. Reverence would undermine ingrained and subtle prejudices, very powerful enemies who will not surrender so easily.

Were I to follow this course personally I would, in a way, still be following my dad’s guidance. I am going to respect them even if I don’t like them. This might lead to a life of daring and adventure. I think that makes for a good resolution.

--David Bradley, CEO of La Paloma Family Services Inc.

Avg. Rating: 2.66 (328 votes) | Recommend It: 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 -->Best


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference If it caught on it might be the formula for a revolution:

» Re: Overconfidence in Assessing People from tribe.net: www.powerofrespect.org
I admire you for this. You remind me of this article: http://www.powerofres... [Read More]

Comments (1)


I liked what I read; here is something that goes along with this topic.

Respect is earned not forced. If respect is forced then it’s not true respect. Respect should always be given before you should expect it. Therefore respect all things that are not yours and respect all others because you deserve it too.

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on November 25, 2006 11:34 PM.

The previous post in this blog was Prejudice against the rich and powerful.

The next post in this blog is How cooperation (eventually) trumps conflict by Robert Wright.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.