This spring I was leading a group of highly motivated, volunteer Sunday School teachers in a session about multi-sensory learning and the topic of challenging children came up. One of the teachers asked what to do when a child speaks disrespectfully. My answer was inadequate, and I’ve spent months thinking about respect.
Along the way, I’ve realized that I think it is better if a teacher can earn respect but not need it from students. Students do not enter a learning environment to meet the emotional needs of the educator, but rather, the relationship is one of giving – the educator gives a body of knowledge, skills, or expertise to a student in uptakable spoonfuls. When education is done well, respect naturally overflows unless the learner has other more pressing matters. And when education isn’t done well, well, respect is not likely to happen. All humans need regard, so we need to find the way for these needs to get met without demanding dutiful treatment from those we serve.
The meaning of the word and the way it is used do not always line up. Often deference seems to be what people actually mean when they say respect. Deference meaning:
Deference doesn’t seem to be my natural response to anyone or anything. Tell me not to do something, and that’s the first thing I want to do. My husband says, “Don’t touch this wire.” I touch it; I get shocked. A friend says, “Oh, you can’t drink that,” and I respond, “Yes, I can….” except that she reminds me it’s about gluten content not control. Through the years I’ve learned to be quiet until I figure out if I have reasons to yield, so this may not always show the non-compliance, but rest assured internally, there is only One I yield to.
On the other hand, I have a deep sense of the intrinsic worth of each person. Respecting the uniqueness of each person’s created in the image of Godness usually comes easily. When I am getting to know people, I become fascinated by who they are, what moves and motivates them, why they do what they do. When I’ve known people for a time, it can be awe inspiring to see how they walk through life’s pain and triumphs. I have not encountered a person who does not require a second look, which is after all what respect actually is.
My sense with respect is that people will always look (spect) again (re-) at someone who lives purposefully, intentionally, well even if we do not agree with all of the person’s reasons. If all I see is a shadow of who a person is, I’m going to look again for the substance of the person. People who are deeply respected do not have to demand certain treatment, require deference. Respect
naturally flows to those who love well, live thoughtfully, act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with God.
These people, Jim and Vivienne Yoder, I respect. For almost half of my life I have been inspired and in appreciation of their humility, kindness, hospitality, pursuit of excellence, practical helps, and I am in awe of their faithfulness to the Lord and in service to people. Never, not once, have they asked for others to defer, respect them, but many hold them in the highest regard because they live well.
I think Arethra Franklin is right; we’ve got to have respect. But no externally forced actions, duty, or demands will elicit genuine respect, awe, esteem. And when we disagree with one another, demanding actions, respect, or the cessation of actions will not foster genuine respect. If pain, self-doubt, discomfort, leave one unsure, then sit with these emotions until insight comes about what to do rather than demanding others act or speak in a way that pushes away the internal feeling of disrespect.
A child I know was told by a teacher, “You need to respect your elders.” He said, “I know I need to respect my elders, but you need to respect your youngers.” Deference can be forced, respect earned. Rather than settling for deference, live into
- Life with a purpose.
- Actions that express what’s in your heart.
- A heart full of beauty, goodness, truth, love.
Second looks and considerations will come.
Respect, got to have it.