What Does Respect Mean?

What Does Respect Mean - Respect originated as a nonviolent herd emotion, which compelled individual members to voluntarily ignore their own needs to serve a social superior. Respect, motivated by fear, set off a placating pattern of behavior, conceding power to the strong. A respectful approach saved the weak from being attacked by the strong. Respect evolved over millions of years, as herd interactions improved beyond the more primitive motivations like fear and anger.

Respect differs from the later emotions of admiration, love, kinship and compassion. Such emotions also triggered respectful behaviors, enriching community interactions. Today, the world seeks respect in all interpersonal relationships. The laws of civilization seek to respect individuals, institutions, governments and the living earth. As opposed to respect, negative emotions like anger and jealousy trigger disrespectful attitudes and behaviors, which result in pain and discord.

  • Respect is an emotion, which heightens your attention and changes your immediate objective.
  • Respect generates varied behavioral changes depending on the strength of the emotion.
  • The symbols, which command respect define new hierarchies in today's world.
  • Respect has evolved from a demand for respect for the strong to a demand for respect for all people.
  • Respect is a fragile and easily destroyed emotion.
  • Familiarity does not always kill respect.
  • A lack of respect triggers pain and anger.
  • Disrespect has become a major avenue for study.
  • Self awareness can learn to cope with disrespect.
  • Commanding respect is another way of jumping the queue.
  • Teaching respect must begin from the top.

What Does Respect Mean? - Emotions Control Behavior
Emotional signals control your motor systems. If you are suddenly required to step on a plank a hundred feet above ground, your fear will kick in. It instantly suppresses even your elementary abilities and freezes your normal capacity to walk a few steps on a plank. Just as fear freezes you into inaction, different families of emotions manipulate your facial expressions and the muscles in your body. Even blind and deaf children show similar facial expressions. Those expressions mirror the gentle caress of love, or the swift lash of anger.

Social standing, inspired by respect, ensured survival in environs, such as prisons, in military service, or in school yards. Both fear and admiration inspire respect. The emotion triggers bio-chemical changes in the brain, including the release of the neuro-modulator dopamine. Dopamine enhances neural responses, making one more intensely aware of the objects of respect. They are acknowledged and become the focus of attention. Their needs take priority and their judgments become more valued.

What Does Respect Mean? - Respect Related Behavior
The instant you see a person, who is vitally important to you, speed dial circuits in the amygdala fire to focus and intensify your attention on him. Your mind acknowledges his presence as demanding a “second look.”Mirror neurons within you detect the emotions visible on his face and you begin to “live” his emotions. Fear accentuates the strength of those perceived emotions within you beyond the power of your normal feelings. Within milliseconds, his expectations become more important to you than your own. You walk the extra mile to satisfy him. Your sacrifices appear unimportant to you.

At the highest level, the respect emotion freezes people in wide eyed awe. At the next level, they keep a deferential distance from respected people. Their qualities appear to demand emulation and praise. Their orders are instantly obeyed. Their work is not to be interrupted. Their deaths are mourned. As the strength of the respect emotion diminishes, your own priorities and your critical faculties slowly gain higher precedence. Slowly they are seen to be ordinary mortals. The respect emotion is an individual's own perception and is not consciously generated by the object of respect.

What Does Respect Mean? - The New Hierarchies
Respect sustains social hierarchies. The quick wit, loud voice or the strong arm of a bully ruled the school yard. Such abilities are less respected in the adult world. New symbols of power now command respect and trigger similar voluntary compliance. Governments and organizations use symbols, such as imposing titles, or grand buildings to indicate high status and command respect. The titles of kings, emperors, presidents and prime ministers inspire awe. Courts and judges command instant respect. Grand staircases and high ceiling offices make the visitors feel small and unimportant. In business, the titles of supervisors, managers and directors intimidate lower levels. Such symbols trigger respect and modify behavior to achieve voluntary compliance by lower social levels.

What Does Respect Mean? - The Evolution Of Respect
Respect originated as an emotion which controlled the behavior of the weak in their interactions with the strong. Such behavior originally acknowledged the rights of the strong. Respect also made people subordinate their personal needs to work with others for a larger cause. When combined with admiration, the emotion of respect triggered acceptance, appreciation and esteem and eliminated the need for intimidation, trickery, and manipulation.

As civilization and culture advanced, respect between people was seen to be the best way of managing complex systems, without suppressing individual creativity. When they felt respect, people acknowledged individual differences and remained more open to influence by others. Respect made communities more efficient and achieved greater individual satisfaction from work.

Respect could no longer be triggered merely by physical strength. A million hierarchies had developed in countless professions, skills and talents. People expected to be respected for their skills, contributions and their individuality. Kant was the first major Western philosopher to put respect for persons, including oneself as a person, at the very center of moral theory with an insistence on respect for each individual.

Respect generated care and consideration. Environmentalists demand respect for nature. Foes of abortion and capital punishment insist on respect for human life. Racial and ethnic minorities and those discriminated against because of their gender, sexual orientation, age, religious beliefs, or economic status demanded respect.

Respect for patient autonomy has transformed health care practice. Physician-based paternalism gave way to respect for issues such as informed consent, truth telling, confidentiality, respecting refusals of life-saving treatment, or the use of patients as subjects in medical experimentation. It is believed that even torturers and child-rapists, deserving severe punishment, still remain persons, who should be respected, since respect should not be based on morality.

What Does Respect Mean? - The Fragility Of Respect
Unfortunately, the respect emotion cannot be simulated. When it is not powerfully felt, respect is a fragile emotion, easily destroyed by other negative emotions. Respect, generated by the symbols of power, can collapse like the statue of a fallen dictator. If a respected person is rude, respect is replaced by the fire of vengeance. Respect disappears, if the object of respect fails to meet some arbitrary standard of value, performance, or behavior. It can be destroyed by the prejudices of race, creed, religion, or color. It is destroyed if the object of respect becomes a victim of ridicule. It is harmed if the object of respect intentionally, or unintentionally causes pain. Sometimes, respect is destroyed by familiarity.

What Does Respect Mean? - Familiarity Need Not Kill Respect
While Mark Twain's view “Familiarity breeds contempt – and children” was witty, the words of George Ade “familiarity breeds contentment” remain closer to reality. It is true that familiarity can lead to disrespect. Initially, the attendant to a powerful person may be awed by the symbols of office. But, as time passes, the attendant is more likely to see his human foibles and lose the earlier sense of awe. The British officials in India coped with this problem by keeping a safe distance from the people they ruled.

But, attendants to celebrities also see the adulation and respect they receive from crowds. They see the talents and skills, which vaulted them to success. In such cases, familiarity may only breed more respect. For combatants under attack, familiarity builds loyalty and stronger bonds. In affectionate families, familiarity leads to love and regard. An employee's respect may increase, if she sees the culinary skills of her boss at the annual company picnic.

What Does Respect Mean? - A Lack Of Respect Triggers Anger
When the sales person at a counter ignores your presence, your nerve cells respond with pain messages. Not receiving due respect is a painful experience for humans. Eisenberger's research at UCLA confirms activity in the neural pain circuits, when a person suffers social rejection.

A patient suffers pain, when damage to the skin cause nociceptors, pain nerve cells, to fire. Such pain processing is reported to have two parallel channels. The first causes the sensation of pain and the second, a feeling of being “hurt.” The “hurt” pain emotion is more disagreeable than the pain sensation.

Pain triggers anger. Within a few milliseconds, before you become conscious of it, anger sets off a drive to retaliate. In the working world, thousands of factors, including actions, gestures, words and glances can indicate disrespect and cast you into a vengeful mood. The fire of terrorism is fed by the fuel of disrespect.

What Does Respect Mean? - The Psychology Of Disrespect
Disrespect was the ultimate survival weapon, which systematically sidelined or eliminated the weak. While brute strength protected the strong, their arrogance displayed their superiority and prevented needless skirmishes. Karen Armstrong writes of the Bedouins “Arrogance was not a fault, but a sign of nobility, whereas humility showed that you came from defective stock and had no aristocratic blood in your veins.” Tolstoy describes a prince, who “was equable and not cringing with his superiors, was free and ingratiating with his equals, and contemptuously indulgent with his inferiors.” The youth cultures in the 1960s and 1970s considered respect the opposite of liberty and independent thinking.

Dr. Arnold Nerenberg writes “If you trace the origins of behavioral problems in people, you find most of it stems from a breakdown in respect.” Disrespect casts the victim into a lower class and assumes that her interests can be completely ignored. Disrespect ignores people, without any consideration for their feelings, opinions or needs. Disrespect triggers frustration and anger and the victim is forced to retaliate, or accept a lower social standing. Disrespect dissolves friendships and fosters cynicism.

What Does Respect Mean? - Coping With Disrespect
Self awareness is the key to coping with disrespect. In our highly stressed and fast moving world, people have little time to show respect. They can say things, without realizing that their words can hurt. But, you can sense whether you are ignored because the shop assistant is busy, or because he thinks you are unimportant. Be aware of your response, when you face such situations.

Self awareness can make you know situations, which cause emotional turmoil. Recognizing and identifying angry drives will still them. You will then rationally evaluate the situation and deal with it with tact. Disrespect is their problem, not yours. When emotions are stilled, your common sense will make you wait patiently and get your job done.

What Does Respect Mean? - Commanding Respect
It is normal for people to wish to be able to command respect. But, respect alters the balance of equity. Because, when people feel respect, they feel compelled to let you jump the queue. They ignore their personal rights and satisfy your wishes. When facts or appearances demand it, the emotion quickly kicks in, compelling appropriate behavior. There are usually three sound reasons.

One, the person knows your social superiority. You are the boss, or the team leader. Two, you have all the outward appearances of being superior, or your tone and behavior appear intimidating. Lastly, without being so compelled, there will always be some who serve you, because they are innately courteous and respect all people.

  • Commanding Respect - Social Superiority
    The person accepts you as higher in social standing, better informed, more powerful, or threatening. In such cases, you command 
    more respect by being respectful towards your subordinates.
  • Commanding Respect – Leadership
    Some people are born leaders. Like 
    gratitude, respect for them induces happy compliance. They take charge with an air of authority and act as if nothing else is possible. Their well reasoned opinions capture the listener's attention and respect. They are patient and allow others to pause and reflect, and see things differently. Since respect is an instinctive emotion, people impulsively follow such leaders.
  • Commanding Respect – Intimidation
    Aggressive behaviors often command respect. Disrespect upsets most people, who may be willing to give in to demands to avoid painful confrontation. Loud voices draw attention. Glaring at the counter clerk may work. Intimidating words, which imply dire consequences draw compliance. In labor negotiations, workers often use insults and abuses to cow down management. Manipulation deliberately uses and abuses people. Evidently, such behaviors cannot be simulated by sensitive people. Borrowed feathers can fall off. Use your tact to deal with arrogance, which invariably hides weaknesses.
  • Commanding Respect – Appearances
    Following the dress code of the powerful can command attention. Standing tall, directly facing the person, looking into their eyes and attending to their responses leads to more effective communication. Evidently, seedy clothes and a tired and lazy look will have the opposite effect. While appearances are important, they may not work if real respect is absent.
  • Commanding Respect – Give Respect
    Respect is a reciprocal emotion. Managers who treat their subordinates respectfully are more likely to receive respect. Respect can be simulated. All great actors are able to simulate even the most complex emotions. The advantage is that when you simulate an emotion, both your inner attitude and your outward behavior will follow the rules of that emotion. When the sales person at a counter ignores your presence, it is natural to respond with anger. If, on the other hand, you can even simulate respect, you will see the person as someone with weaknesses and problems. Instead of disrespect, respect may achieve your objective in a more satisfying manner.

What Does Respect Mean? - Teaching Respect
Respect is needed at every level. Unfortunately, parents and educators in many societies note with alarm a growing problem of disrespect and a decline in respect for self and others. Workplace rudeness leads to decreased job satisfaction, motivation, commitment, and increases staff turnover, absenteeism, anxiety and depression. But, respect is an emotion, which trickles down from the top. A courteous king will have a happier country. Education is most needed at the top.

Governance hierarchy may demonstrate superiority through disrespectful behavior. But the organizations must lead by example from the top. When executives show civility, employees will become less cynical and more creatively compliant. Respect also has to be introduced with tact. Highlighting the incidents of disrespect to groups increases anger. Reminding prisoners of the incidents, where they were not respected raises the risk that they will feel that violence is justified.

This page was last updated on 02-Jan-2014



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