R-E-S-P-E-C-T …. and not just a little bit!

I was going through the Rolling Stone’s top 500 songs the other day and something struck me as I listened to their #5 entry: Aretha Franklin’s version of the Otis Redding-penned “Respect”.

Great song, but how can she be asking for “just a little respect?” (“All I’m asking for is a little respect (just a little bit, just a little bit…”)

With all due respect, we can’t have just a little bit of respect (unless it’s a euphemism for something else, but that’s another story!). Like death or, being more positive, life, respect is an absolute: You can’t be “just a little dead:” when you’re dead, you’re dead; and when you’re alive, you’re alive. And you either have respect or you don’t.

The bedrock of any lasting, positive relationship is respect.

Key words: lasting and positive. Because we can have lasting relationships that are negative, and we do it all the time — with our bosses, abusive spouses and free-loading friends. We also have positive relationships that are short due to people moving away, drifting apart, death, etc.. If we think about it, more often than not, when we see these people again, we tend to pick up right where we left off because our relationships are built on the bedrock of respect.

And if there is one type of respect that trumps all the others, it’s self-respect.

Self-respect.

I was coming home in a taxi the other day and when we pulled up to where we live, the entrance was blocked by a taxi whose driver was arguing with the security guard about where he was allowed to wait for passengers (the apartment complex has only a very small entryway and is routinely blocked by moving vans, etc. so often the taxi stand changes).

From what we overheard, the driver was not happy about being told to move his taxi, and was screaming in protest. The security guard was standing there calmly and replying in a normal tone of voice. As our way was blocked, we were just sitting there waiting for some resolution. I sighed, and my taxi driver shook his head thoughtfully, and then he made the most interesting comment: “The driver has no respect for himself.”

If you’re like me, you would have thought: “Wait a minute. Don’t you mean ‘The driver has no respect for the security guard?’ ”

But on second thought, it became clear: if the driver had respect for himself, he wouldn’t have let his emotions get carried away to such a degree about something as little as being told he had to move his taxi.

Easier said than done, that’s for sure!

I know that I’ve gotten myself into more situations that I care to remember that have escalated beyond calm and that resulted in my feeling just horrible afterwards when I realise that I, too, share the blame or am to blame for what happened. That my lack of self-esteem or insecurity have caused me to lash out.

“The driver will regret his actions upon reflection later on,” my taxi driver commented, then shook his head sadly, as if he wished he could reach out and help this poor fellow driver. How true!

Self-respect begins with … the self!

If you’re like me, learning the lessons of life growing up was all about other people: do unto others as you want them to do unto you. The focus being on ‘others’. I equated self-respect with ‘self-ish’ or ‘self-absorbed’, and as a result, ignored my own self in favor of others.

How familiar does this sound to you?

When my daughter was 12, she was taking violin lessons. She had chosen to learn the violin and liked her teacher, but one particular day that summer, she was in a foul mood, and in the afternoon before her lesson, she had gone into her bedroom and closed and locked the door while she did her homework. (Actually, I have no idea what she was doing in there, but respected her decision to be alone for awhile.) I watched the clock and waited, sensing that an almighty battle was on the horizon.

About 15 minutes before the lesson, I knocked on her door to remind her it was nearly time to leave. Silence.

Ten minutes before the lesson I tried again. This time, she proclaimed she wasn’t going to the lesson and nothing I could do would make her go.  The gauntlet had been thrown!

In my mind, I was thinking: “Oh yes, you will!  It is too late to cancel and I am not calling to say you’re not going! I paid good money for these lessons and you will get yourself down there NOW! Your teacher is waiting for you! I will not be embarrassed!

And it wasn’t all focused on “I” and “your teacher”. Oh no! I did put the focus on her, but it was all negative: “You will stop being unreasonable and go! You have no reason to be in such a foul mood! What do you think you’re trying to accomplish!

Suddenly it occurred to me that this had nothing to do with me.  Or with her teacher.  Or with the violin. But it did have everything to do her, and I had a great opportunity to show her that. I took a deep breath.

“I know you will go, and you know how I know?” I said calmly through the door.

Silence.

I waited patiently, saying nothing.  (Where did this calm come from, I wondered?!)

I knew she was thinking of all the possible ways I would have for prying open the door and dragging her out forcibly, and she’d be dying to know so that she could tell me how it was NEVER going to happen.

“How?” she finally demanded to know.

“I know, because I know you.” I said.

“Hah! You think you know me, but you don’t know me!” she shot back.

“Well, I know you are a kind, responsible girl,” I said matter-of-factly. “I know that you like your teacher and you won’t want to make her wait without knowing what is going on. I know that you will regret my calling to say you aren’t coming, because you know that I won’t lie to your teacher and make up some bogus excuse. I will just say you aren’t coming, and she will wonder why and next time will ask you what happened. I know you won’t want to lie to your teacher, you won’t make up some excuse for why you can’t go today. I know that you won’t do that, because I know that you are a kind, responsible girl.”

Silence.

Now I’d love to be able to say that she immediately acquiesced and opened her door and went skipping off happily to violin class, but it didn’t happen quite that way. There was a lot more back and forth through that closed door before that happened, but what’s important is that it did happen, and it happened because she came to realise that it was about HER and how SHE was going to behave. It wasn’t about me or me telling her about how to behave or ranting about the money or the teacher. It was making her realise that she HERSELF had the power to decide how to behave and to take responsibility for her actions in a way that would give her no reason to feel remorse and regret later.

I am still amazed that I handled that situation so well that day, and didn’t end up spewing all the turbulent thoughts that were raging in my brain.  I’d have to say it is all because of that one taxi ride, and the memory of my driver saying: “That driver has no respect for himself.”

To be continued….

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