I read an article recently about food allergy sufferers who struggle to get chefs, or even their own families, to acknowledge their allergies. As a result, some have gotten ill from deliberately being fed ingredients they couldn’t eat, while those with severe allergies literally risk their lives if someone ignores their dietary needs.
This struck me as not just a food issue but a respect issue. When someone denies or refuses to acknowledge someone else’s need, it is saying, “you don’t matter.” Unfortunately, as the story demonstrated, people often have difficulties respecting each other’s needs and boundaries. Whether out of carelessness or ignorance, we damage relationships by failing to treat the other person with the care they deserve.
We all need to cultivate respect and these four steps are a great way to start…
The basis of all healthy relationships is communication, and that means listening. We need to practice really paying attention to what other people are trying to tell us — not just verbally, but physically and emotionally. The yoga studio is a good place to begin: focus on listening with real attention to the instructor, not just letting the words slide past you. When you’re talking to a friend, loved one or colleague, stay present.
Other people will experience, feel, say, and do things you can’t get your head round. They will staunchly believe things that seem totally inexplicable to you. No matter how strange, it isn’t your place to decide whether or not their feeling, ideas or experience are valid; you must accept their version of their life. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with someone whose beliefs you find objectionable, for example, but it means you have to accept they hold them, and have a reason — whether or not it seems right to you.
To be a respectful person, you have to support others as they move through life, especially if their experience is different from yours. It isn’t enough to be an ally to the people who are like you. Practicing compassion and openness means being willing and able to care for those around you, whatever your similarities or differences.
The big leap in respect is to not just accept but affirm other people, even when they are coming from a place — or going through an experience — that is foreign to you. Again, affirmation does not mean supporting beliefs that are contrary to yours, but it does mean respecting the inherent human value of everyone you meet, and affirming that everyone deserves to be treated with care and dignity.