The True Meaning of Respect

by Elaine Sihera - Date: 2007-02-17 - Word Count: 1171 Share This!

As we begin a new year, whatever new resolutions we make, there is one thing we will seek every day without fail in our lives and that is RESPECT because it is tied up with our self-esteem and feeling of value. We talk about it a lot, we yearn for it, we expect it automatically and we notice when we haven't been given it by others. But this word is not really understood by many people.

For example, respect is demonstrated by our actions, not our words. And when those actions are absent, especially at a trivial or simple level, there is also a distinct lack of respect. In every relationship respect goes hand-in-hand with love and commitment. You cannot love someone you don't respect or are not prepared to commit to, even for a short time. Otherwise you will resent the time spent with them, or spent doing things on their behalf, when you could be doing something else or be with someone else. Neither can you love someone you really do not trust. Once trust is gone, the feelings become superficial as the relationship shifts in terms of both emotion and power. You would no longer respect that person, tending to be suspicious of their actions instead of celebrating and enjoying their presence.

The Six Dimensions of Respect
Often a lack of respect comes from a misunderstanding of the word. We throw around the word 'respect' very glibly, as a single cure-all for our feelings. But respect is not just one term. It carries six other dimensions within it:

1. curiosity

2. attention
3. dialogue
4. sensitivity
5. empowerment
6. healing

If we are not really demonstrating those six concepts in various ways, with regards to the one we say we respect, we are not showing them much respect at all.

Respect starts with curiosity. We have an interest in that person. We want to know as much about them as possible, or at least a few key things to start with. In the dating process we engineer all kinds of opportunities to satisfy that curiosity and are often mortified when we get no response from our interest because are unable to fulfil our curiosity in any way and to give our attention. We feel frustrated, rejected and insignificant.

If curiosity is satisfied, we move to give that person our full attention. Indeed, our curiosity grows too, because that person begins to assume value in our eyes. The amount of value will depend on the way they satisfy our curiosity and attention. If the information we get is weak, unappealing or non-reinforcing, we lose interest rapidly, our attention wanes and we move towards another. However, if we perceive that the new interest aligns with us and matches us in major ways, excitement and interest both quicken. We then lavish even more attention on that person, going out of our way to attract their attention and interest.

Lots of attention inevitably leads to dialogue because that is the only way we can learn about our new interest. We communicate verbally as much as possible because we respect that person enough to want to hear what they have to say. We also take the greatest pleasure in conversing for its own sake. Hence much money will be spent on dates and phone calls, in particular. Where there is little respect, we are not in the least bit interested in that person and won't even talk to them. If there is also disrespect, for example, we made assumptions about them based upon their gender, colour, sexuality etc., we will go so far as to treat them negatively. We might have a dialogue at such times but it will express our anxieties, prejudices or anger, not our respect.

This is at the core of respect. Accepting the person as they are without wanting to change them to suit us; fully acknowledging their values, culture, identity and who they want to be; valuing their contributions, opinions and inputs and genuinely listening to them and sharing their concerns. These are all essential elements of showing sensitivity to the person they are, and wish to be. When we put ourself and our needs first, and can only see our values, cultures and opinions, we are lacking great sensitivity to those we care for and are actually denying them respect, no matter what we say to the contrary.

Being curious about someone, giving our attention to, having a dialogue with, him or her, and being sensitive to their needs represent the greatest form of empowerment we can grant to another human being. It shows we value them greatly if we are willing to give them our attention and time, and also care about what they value. Anything else lacks respect. For example, if someone is trying to talk to you but you are busy playing on your computer, or talking to someone else on the phone, that shows little reciprocity for the respect they might be giving to you, or sensitivity to their presence and needs.

Respect has the capacity to heal, especially when we have had past experiences that have been very hurtful or traumatic, so this last dimension is important. When we have had a bad time it is very affirming to be respected and valued by the new person we are attracted to, or the people we interact with, and it is effective in speeding up the healing process. For example, if someone felt really inadequate because her man went off with a younger, more beautiful woman, a new lover in her life demonstrating how wonderful she is would give her much-needed respect and reinforcement. This would heal her pain even quicker than if she had to overcome it by herself. Respect heals because it affirms and reinforces who we are and wish to be. It also puts past hurt into perspective, or even negates it, and restores our confidence.

Respect and trust can never be taken for granted. They are attributes that have to be proven. They are also directly reciprocal to the behaviour of others. For example, when we feel that we have had no respect from other people we care about, it is likely that we have given them very little respect ourselves. Most of us are sensitive to when we are not being treated with respect and are then unable to give any in its absence.

If you feel disrespected, what are you doing in the process? There is always a connection. You are either accepting substandard behaviour in order to gain approval, allowing yourself to be treated like a doormat, or you are not treating someone well enough. Once you sort out the root cause, mutual respect and trust are usually assured.

Altogether these six dimensions add up to the powerful concept of respect. When we show another human being that respect, we add an even greater experience to their life and perspectives while we too are empowered by its effects. (This was an excerpt from 10 Easy Steps to...Finding Your Ideal Soulmate! available from

Related Tags: value, healing, empowerment, self-esteem, respect, attention, sensitivity

ELAINE SIHERA (Ms Cyprah - is an expert author, media contributor and columnist. The first Black graduate of the OU and a post-graduate of Cambridge University, Elaine is a CONSULTANT for Diversity Management, Personal Empowerment and Relationships. Dynamic extrovert with a passion for living and people. Author of: 10 Easy Steps to Growing Older Disgracefully; 10 Easy Steps to Finding Your Ideal Soulmate!; Money, Sex & Compromise and Managing the Diversity Maze, among others (available on Also the founder of the British Diversity Awards and the Windrush Achievement Awards.

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