I believe that whoever you are, and whatever the nature or duration of the relationship we have or might have in the future, there is only room in that relationship for respect; that respect is the ground upon which we meet. This is where it gets harder. I mean it unconditionally. I don’t mean there is only room for respect unless you upset me, or we take points of view that seem to be diametrically opposed, or are never going to see one another again. I’ve made a deliberate decision that no matter what, there is only room in our relationship for respect. I’m not a living saint, and what I suggest isn’t easy, but when you truly know something, your behavior has to reflect it. My respect for you, whoever you are, is a necessary reflection of the respect that I have for myself.
Underlying that initial belief is another: I believe that the difference between you and me is much less than either of us might think, based on superficial qualities. I didn’t get to this belief by myself. The clients I work with are also my teachers. Fourteen years ago, when I started to work as an executive coach, I found myself talking to clients who appeared to be very different from me, and who held very different beliefs, but who trusted me completely to guide them toward their future success. From the beginning, I held that trust sacred, and its importance to me has grown. I realized that by focusing on the differences between my clients and me I was denying the best parts of them, which were vital for me to appreciate in order to help propel them toward their goals. That was a huge toll on my happiness, and one that I’m no longer willing to pay.
I’m grateful for that lesson. I try to pay my clients back by choosing to see everyone I encounter as being worthy of respect. It’s a habit that requires eternal vigilance, but that’s ok; I’m willing to be vigilant because the payoff is so great. I spent a good part of my earlier life defining myself based on who, and what, I was not, feeling smug because I wasn’t this way, or morally superior because I wasn’t that way. Demonizing people for their “otherness,” for the ways that they differed from me became an excuse to withhold or withdraw my respect.
The only way to elicit respect is to first offer it. The astonishing part of this discovery is how easy it is to do, and what a relief it is. People no longer have to “earn” my respect. Respect on a fundamental level is like love; neither of them can be earned, they can only be given.
There’s a chance that you and I will meet someday; I hope that it happens. If it does, whatever the nature or length of our relationship, there will only be room for respect.
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