We’re all familiar with the concept of unconditional love, whether we’ve experienced it or not. It’s a love you can’t earn and you can’t mess up, a love that you receive regardless of your actions. Most parents feel unconditional love for their children, although not all are adept at showing it all the time.
But what about unconditional respect?
Have you ever been given this kind of respect, a respect you don’t have to earn and you can’t lose? If you can answer yes to that, then you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. You might have heard of it before as ‘The Golden Rule’ or the Proverb that says ‘a gentle answer can turn away wrath.’ Maybe you remember Thumper, the adorable little bunny from Bambi, saying, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.” When you boil it down, these are the same message: Treat others with kindness regardless of how they’ve treated you.
Have you ever given unconditional respect to others? It’s a world-changing practice, one that I honestly believe could bring about world peace if only we would all take part in it with our whole hearts and strongest efforts. When you answer a mean or careless yell with gentleness or smile at a crabby person on the street, you’re practicing unconditional respect. Unconditional respect says, “It doesn’t matter how you treat me. I’m going to empathize with you, recognize that factors in your life may be influencing the way you treat me, and treat you only with kindness and honor.”
This isn’t something we see very often in America these days.
In fact, I rarely see this kind of concern for others in my day to day life. Our culture perpetuates this idea that you have to earn my respect and, until you do, I’m entitled to treat you however I see fit. In addition to this mindset, we have a tendency towards apathy, a lack of concern and care for others. If I don’t know you, I’m in no way expected to make an effort to make your day better or brighter. This kind of thinking not only causes disrespect amongst people, it breeds lack of accountability, the idea that I’m not responsible for my neighbor, and even crime.
How far does this respect go?
I have the privilege of teaching eighth-grade health as well as science and math. When I taught my students about this kind of respect, one of them challenged me and asked if I would still respect him if he broke into my house and stole from me. He was quite shocked when I answered that yes, I would still show him respect.
Why, he wanted to know, would I still show respect to someone who stole from me? Because I don’t know what you were going through to cause you to break in. Maybe you needed something that I had. Or you were desperate for some kind of attention, anything to make someone take notice of you. Maybe you had to get that money to help pay for your grandpa’s medicine. Truth be told, I might not feel respect for you in my heart of hearts, but I’m still going to show you respect. Sometimes we have to act in a way we don’t really feel. That’s #adulthood, ya’ll.
The result of unconditional respect is… respect.
The incredible thing about unconditional respect is that it pays you back with respect. I proceeded to ask my students how many of them could spit in my face. They were aghast at the very idea. Responses ranged from “No way, Mrs. Hayward!” to “You’re my friend, I could never do that!” But every single one of them told me they wouldn’t be able to do it. I scaled it back and asked how many could bad mouth me to another student in the halls. The looks were less shocked but the responses were the same.
Because it’s hard to treat someone poorly who consistently treats you well. It has been my general experience that by showing unconditional respect to people in my community, workplace, church, family, and grocery store almost always results in a kinder, more friendly response. Often, we’re so used to poor treatment from others, being ignored at best and treated cruelly at worst, that when we’re shown kindness by another it’s a wonderful surprise. I don’t know about you, but I want to be the person who brightens someone’s day. I want to be a smile maker, passing respect and kindness forward through those I interact with each day.
Children can only learn this from us.
Not only do I want to show this kind of respect to strangers, I want to treat my children with unconditional respect every day. I want to teach them by example how to treat others. Goodness knows they won’t learn it only by hearing me tell them. They must be shown. If we can rise up and show our kids how to extend this level of compassion to others, our world would be completely rocked by it. In those tough moments when you’re exhausted or stretched thin by hours of bickering, it can be really hard to respond with respect. But it’s okay to mess it up. It’s okay because it gives you an opportunity to teach your kids how to apologize and mean it.
Unconditional respect, unlike love, is usually harder to offer to those closest to you because they’re the ones you interact with most. They’ve got the highest chance of being around when you’re off your game. So forgive your own mistakes, ask forgiveness from those you’re less than patient with, and shut your mouth when something unkind tries to cross your lips.
Change starts with you.
So here’s my challenge. As you go about the rest of your day, try some unconditional respect. Choose kindness in every response. When your grumpy side gets the better of you, apologize sincerely, with humility, and try harder the next time. I promise you that it will get easier. And I also promise you that the world, your world, will be better off because of you.
Be kind. Choose respect. Love one another.
Leave a comment below letting us know how unconditional respect has impacted your life. And thanks for reading!
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