Our varied perspectives on respect…

Growing up west of the Mississippi, most of my interactions were founded in the same definition of respect. It wasn’t until I migrated east, finding myself in New York City, that I really understood how respect could be viewed differently. For most my life, I thought it meant the same thing to everyone. Most people I surrounded myself with felt the same way, and interestingly, most people I met in New York with the different definition felt the same way too. Each of us in our own insular realities believing it was one thing we all agreed upon. Surprise!

What I learned from moving around was that it was less geographical and more personality based. Though as humans we crave being respected and showing respect, I found having a similar definition seemed to bring people together. Sometimes to such an extent the definition becomes so widespread within a geography one could start to feel as though generalizations could be made that certain regions defined respect in the same ways.

So what are some ways this manifests? Probably one of my favorites was how people handled things after a couple dates if they weren’t interested. Some people view the respectful thing as letting the person know it’s not a good fit and wishing them the best. Others view that as horribly rude, why rub it in? Instead they prefer the person just stop responding or say it’s me not you. The first set of people view this as horribly rude, lies or ghosting really? As you can see, it’s easy for people with different definitions to not only misinterpret the others actions but to be completely offended by the divergence in perspectives.

Another example is within relationships how honest people are with each other. Some people view the respectful thing as always being open and honest, sharing what they like and what they dislike. Others view this as insensitive and rude, why be such a jerk? Instead they prefer the person only say the good or sugar coat the bad in half-truths or omissions. The first set of people view this as deceitful and difficult to build trust. Thus another divergence in interpretation that can lead to unnecessary conflict simply based on different value systems.

My favorite example is someone who told me they’d bottled up all their dislikes about their boyfriend for 3 years, he thought everything was fine, then she just up and left for another guy without any explanation saying it would have been rude to tell him the things she didn’t like. Um – he can’t read minds, how could they have ever had a chance? Or the inverse, someone told me that the guy they’d gone on a few dates with told her that he didn’t see a future for the two of them. She couldn’t get over how incredible rude and hurtful he was to say that, claiming he was such a jerk. Um – now she facts, how is this not a good thing?

Having spent quite a bit of time thinking about this, reading about this, and talking to people, I’m not sure either way is the ‘right’ way. Each group is so deeply rooted in their belief system. Though what I am sure about is that having a similar mindset makes relating to each other (whether dating, married, family, friends, colleagues, etc.) significantly easier. When there’s a different perspective not only can this lead to arguments and miscommunications, the variance can often lead to people viewing the other person as rude, even though in their mind they are honoring their definition of respect.

I’ve been fortunate to have spent a considerable time living in cities where the majority mirrored my definition as well as having the chance to live in cities where only the minority mirrored my definition. From these experiences, I can tell you living in a culture where my definition was the minority was incredibly grading, when the majority views your actions as disrespectful and you view their actions as disrespectful. What this taught me was how important it is, at least for me, to live amongst people that share similar definitions. It makes life so easy, comfortable, and less dramatic.

So what makes these two groups so divergent? From what I’ve ascertained, it seems there is one common thread between the two groups – ego. Those that put ego first tend to prefer things that cater to ego – ghosting instead of saying you don’t like them, skirting the truth instead of being direct, etc. All these things protect the ego, self-esteem. Those that are less ego-focused tend to prefer fact-based interactions – saying you don’t like them if you don’t, saying the truth whatever it may be, etc. Which really just boils down to: do you prefer feelings over fact or fact over feelings. One might say the answer to this simple question can tell a lot about how a person defines respect and consideration.

Now this of course lends itself to asking do we all view ego the same way, and I believe the answer is no making this an almost impossible topic to communicate because no matter how far we peel the onion, each layer has a different set of judgements and definitions based on people’s personalities. So maybe a simpler way to synthesize this would be to leverage existing research on the Myers-Briggs Identity field (A-Assertive and T-Turbulent). Given the identity field is focused around a person’s self-assurance, I would wonder if we can say a less self-assured person (i.e. Turbulent) that struggles with insecurity and ego is more likely to prefer the sensitive approach to respect. Whereas the more self-assured person (i.e. Assertive) who’s self-confident is more likely to prefer facts as they’re secure enough to handle the truth, whatever it may be.

Then we get to life’s pickle… what to do when we’re already knee deep in a relationship with someone who’s divergent. Do we learn to respect their way, them our way, or meet in the middle? It’s hard to say right. Can someone who values integrity above all find ways to respect someone who values half-truths and omissions? Or is it so counter to their core values they’d feel inauthentic like they lost a part of themselves? Likewise, can someone who values gentler communications find ways to respect someone who’s blatantly honest no matter what? Or is it so counter to their core values they’d feel hurt and attacked all the time? Something I guess only each of us can answer for ourselves.

I wish there were more studies and research on this topic as I find it fascinating. Would love to hear some of your observations on the subject!



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