Respect, everyone wants it. Some people earn it. Others deserve respect, but don’t have it. Some expect respect, but haven’t earnt it. But, it is valued and means something to us all.
As Aretha Franklin put it, the key, is to “find out what it means to me!” I’ll tell you what it means to me.
Fundamental to good relationships is genuine respect for one another. Of course, there are other things too; love, trust, honour, honesty, service and so on. But for me, respect has to be in the top three.
If we conclude that we have no respect for someone, then our instinctive self is unlikely to be drawn into a relationship with them, except perhaps in adversarial exchange. If we respect what they do, who they are, what they are all about, there is a basis for starting a relationship, for considering the needs of another, even if we don’t know them yet. Respect doesn’t always mean agreement either. We can respectfully disagree with one another and still have good, long term relationships with people whom we may disagree with on certain issues or ideas.
However, I am always challenged to consider how my own instinctive and fault-filled self should evolve to find a greater, unconditional, respect and love for others. If we look at a more inclusive, values-based approach to respect, we see a different perspective. In this approach, we develop a respect that is not based on ‘how I feel’ on any particular day or in any specific moment but rather ‘who I am and who others are’ and how we are all connected. We essentially respond to others rather than react and we do so within a mindset that ensures we see others as valuable human beings rather than just obstacles to our own ego-driven way of life.
In our world, our interactions with one another and the issues we grapple with the need to be infused with much more respect. Equality and respect for women and girls, our attitudes to global poverty and people in poorer countries than ours. We need more respect in the debate around Brexit, the way we treat those who are on the margins of society, how we view and support people who have become refugees, who need support from benefits, people who live with disabilities, who look different to us. We need more respect for those who worship differently to us or don’t worship at all, whose family and relationship, gender identity and sexuality is different to ours. We need a much greater respect for our planet, for the stunning and fragile eco-system that preserves us and surrounds us, because look where our disrespect for our planet has got us so far.
Imagine, for a moment, if all of our conversations, support, interventions, actions, engagement with one another and with each one of these issues was driven by genuine respect and unconditional love?
I believe we are all called to love our neighbour. Who is my neighbour? Certainly not just the people I like or get on with, but the whole world. That means everyone. I believe in and I am challenged by a lived respect which doesn’t just settle for merely tolerating others, but rather values others, even over my own needs and opinions. This goes not only for my friends and local community, but for individuals and communities around the world, including the government! To live in a loving way to others in our world, ultimately requires that we respect them, even if we disagree. A friend of mine beautifully describes this as a calling to a “fellowship of controversy.”
Where there is injustice, where there are differing cultures, beliefs and perspectives, we can exhibit respect through our listening and willingness to learn from others. This doesn’t, I believe, mean we just accept injustice because we disagree, or accept the disrespect and disregard of individuals, leaders, and governments towards the vulnerable, the refugee, those of different races or economic standing. Quite the contrary. Our lived respect means we defend those who are disrespected by injustice, we speak out and challenge the disrespectful, but we do so motivated and driven by love and articulate our objection in a respectful and righteous way, even if that is in peaceful and civil disobedience.
In the work I am involved in at All We Can, we have a vision of seeing ‘every person’s potential fulfilled.’ It is a vision which is fundamentally based on respect, one of our core values. For All We Can, the value of respect shapes the work we do and how we do it. We start from the premise that every person is of value and has something valuable to contribute. We work on building genuine relationships with those who we work with and for. It means that we don’t work with local partners in a transactional way, one that limits them to be a sub-contracted implementer of poverty alleviation. We respect that to bring about positive and lasting change to those living in some of the poorest countries in the world, we need to listen to local knowledge, insight and wisdom to find solutions to poverty, not just quick fixes. We respect, instead of compete with other agencies in the sector, understanding that we bring a different approach and dynamic that has the innate propensity for good, lasting change… and so do they. We respect the support of thousands of individuals and churches and community groups in our movement, who help enable the positive and lasting change to happen. We respect our Methodist roots and the Christian principles that All We Can was founded on. All of this means that respect, love, hard work, learning, listening and action results in positive change to lives, sustainable solutions to poverty and transforms the world we all live in together.
R-E-S-P-E-C-T, now you have found out what it means to me, what does it mean to you?