Why Respect and Equality are so Important in Your Relationships

Why Respect and Equality are so Important in Your Relationships

PHIL: I’d like to talk about equality between people and explain that it doesn’t mean being the same in all respects. The phrase I like is “equal but different”; it is unfortunate that this slogan is used by some churches to convey equal value in both sexes while still upholding a hierarchy between men and women.

When I use the word equality, I’m saying that you are a complete human being; just like me, you have your own perceptions and understandings that come from your own upbringing, education and life journey. They are no more or less important than mine. I may be stronger than you in balancing checkbooks or decorating cakes, and you may have strengths and skills in other areas like kindness or map-reading. How can you value one against another? It is likely that overall, they balance out, but even if they don’t, we are still equal in our rights and freedom to make choices. We are equal in our nature.

The Declaration of Independence magnificently says “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” but the alternative belief that some people are better than others is prone to live on in our attitudes to power elites, trailer trash, royalty and Dalits (untouchables). A belief in equality doesn’t come naturally because when growing up, you have the experience of yourself and the outside world, and they are different. Equality is a concept, an idea, and builds on feelings of empathy for others.

It’s hard work to see other people as having a world that is just as rich and complex as yours. It takes a conscious effort to do so, but like many habits, it gets easier with use and time. It’s easiest to do in your close circles because they are people like you, whether you chose them for that or adapted yourself to fit, but to carry it further out to strangers and enemies is hard.

But once you accept the idea of equality, then every difference invites the question “Where are they coming from?” and changes the interaction from a potential problem to one of curiosity, of a puzzle, a hunt for balance. Step back and instead of seeing it as you versus the other person, see it as you and the other person. To kind of step back and go “Oh, okay. This is two people negotiating or interacting, or whatever.”

Equality means treating another person as a complete human being, and respect is equality in action. To respect someone is another way to say, yes, I see you as an equal.Respect is equality in action #relationships #respect #quote Share on X

MAUDE: Many of the qualities that we write and teach about that contribute to happy, peaceful relating have a common underpinning, and that is respect. When you accept the uniqueness of expression of another, you are showing respect. When you listen with the intention to truly hear and understand another person, you are being respectful. When you speak your truth to another, you are behaving with respect.

The dictionary offers two main definitions and the second one is the one I’m referring to here:

  1. a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.
  2. due regard for the feelings, wishes, rights, or traditions of others.

When we treat each other with “due regard”, we grow toward a Golden Rule of relating. This calls for honoring others with our presence and attention, and offering them that which we most desire ourselves. The very simple interactions we all crave lie in being heard, being seen and being acknowledged as we see ourselves. And most of all, being accepted for who we are without feeling we are being asked to be who or what we are not.

This is strangely most important to remember and practice when we are with close friends, relatives and romantic partners. For often, with those we feel the safest, we show the least due regard. We trip over our desire of wanting the best for the other, and mistake this desire for knowing what the best is for that other person. As soon as we are speaking or acting to change another, regardless of how much we may feel this is for their best, we are no longer offering true respect. True respect involves trusting another person to find what is best for themselves.

I know that is challenging, especially with those closest to us. Rather than telling someone how to change or what to do, it is often more loving to be supportive and show our faith in that person to find their very own right answer.

Respect is shown in our tone of voice, our facial expressions, and our body language. It is shown with patience, truth, and the warmth of loving regard.

When you are offered respect it is very calming. It is an embrace of your person that gives you strength and a belief in yourself to master your own particular challenges. It is one of the greatest gifts we can give each other.

Photo credit: Phil Mayes
Photo note: Christopher Park / Stonewall National Monument, NYC

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