Quite a while ago I watched an exchange between an unhappy couple. The one, in a fit of rage, demanded respect from the other. Being the outsider, I was shocked! And… amazed. Did the demander really think that respect was deserved? Her red-faced, spitting fury flowed like hot lava in angry words. It wasn’t pretty. And while her words outlined why she thought she deserved to be respected, everything else communicated otherwise. In that moment, I didn’t feel any respect for her, and I was merely the observer!
Yet, even as I watched in shock and self-righteousness, I shamefully realized that, on any other day, that could have been me.
How many times had I done exactly this? The most common receiver? My kids. It’s in that moment when I lose my temper and words like, “How dare you speak to me like that?” or “You will respect me, young lady! I am your mother!” spring from my mouth. Loudly. With anger. My child may well quiver or cry in fear, she may apologize … she may even toe the line. But does she look to me with respect?
It got me thinking. Would I respect me? Who do I respect? I mean really respect? It’s seldom the person who demands it. Certainly not when they demand it with anger and harsh words! It’s usually the person who has earned it. They’re the people who are firm, but kind; loving, yet uncompromising when it matters; generous, warm, hospitable. They’re the people who give me time of day and seem to genuinely care.
We had a president in our country who was that person. Nelson Mandela. Yes, he had his flaws and his history was checkered, but, in his presidency, despite supporting policies that many didn’t agree with, he was respected by almost everyone in the country, and the world, not because he was president and deserved it, but because he modeled it. I think of the current president of Uruguay, President José Mujica Cordano, who donates 90% of his salary to the poor, drives a battered old VW Beetle and picks up hitchhikers on his way home to his smallholding that he works with his wife and their three-legged dog. He is respected and loved by his people. Not because he demands respect. Not because he is powerful. Not because he is the president. But because he models respect. He leads by example.
I want my kids to grow up showing all people respect. I want them to give respect even when the person they are respecting is not respecting them. I want them to respect a person’s position (mom, dad, teacher, coach, police officer) but I also want them to respect every person – not treating socially disadvantaged people as lesser beings or siblings who make them mad as if they’re dirt. But, I’ve realized, they’re not going to learn that without seeing what it looks like in action.
No amount of demanding it from them will instill it deep into their hearts. No, it’s got to be modeled.
The memory of that unhappy couple is blurred now. But the memory of my most recent outburst with my kids is fresh. Their response was one of respectful obedience, and I am grateful that being respectful to the position I hold as mother is a lesson they know well, but…. I know that the modeling they experienced was not what I wanted for them. And when later I heard a virtual reenactment of my outburst, this time with an older sister demanding respect from her younger brother, my heart sank deeper. The modeling of respect given has been thin around here lately, and it’s time it changed.
Which is why I went to her room and apologized for being a bad example. We’ve had some good chats about respect and what that looks like. They’ve been good. But, it’s time to put words into action. And, since I feel the temptation to show disrespect when I’ve been interrupted while working on the computer, I’ve popped up the reminder to myself on the chalk wall I see out of the corner of my eye: respect earned is respect given.
Respect earned is respect given.
~ Taryn Hayes