Do you like it if anyone disrespects you? I know it’s an absurd question. Of course, you don’t. I mean do you get affected if others disrespect you? Strike that too, actually. Of course, you get affected in varying degrees depending on the incident, offender, timing, and situation. We all do. No one is immune to the effects of disrespect. Most of us find it hard to shake off incidents where we feel we were not respected enough. Strange that we take it so personally, particularly considering that we don’t usually complain when showered with undue respect.

At least, I have certainly experienced it first hand, that is, to be at the receiving end of excessive respect and undue credit. Every now and then, I’m approached by someone who has worked very hard to be where they are and then they come and tell me that it is because of my blessings. Even when I insist that it’s due to their hard work and divine grace, they still attribute their success to my presence in their life. It’s their greatness and humility. Mentally, I offer it all the feet of the Divine Mother. 

The question I wish to tackle today is: why do some people command respect while many don’t even get credit where it’s due? Allow me to divide respect into three categories:

Social Respect

Think of someone you deeply respect. Is that person a miser, someone selfish, a narcissist, incompetent, or a dunce? Probably not. Chances are that the person you respect the most is someone who possesses the exact opposite of what I just stated. The person who has earned your respect must have a degree of competence, empathy, and other virtues. But most importantly, he or she would have impacted you in a positive way.

I feel that often respect is an outcome of the contribution you have made to the lives of others. People respect you for something you did for them. And, sad though it is, our respect is not absolute. It is quite possible to have great reverence for a crook as long as he did something good for you. There are people who worship and protect drug lords just because the heads of these mafias used their ill-gotten wealth to help them. (I had Pablo Escobar in mind when I wrote that sentence). In essence, what I am saying is that when people respect someone, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the person they are respecting is a noble soul. It simply means that this person has touched their lives in a good way.

In short, people will respect you for the good they perceive you did to them.

Professional Respect

What about respect at the workplace? There are some people who seem to get more respect from their colleagues, juniors, and bosses than others. Some who are more political and manipulative may extract a behavior of respect but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are respected. For example, our world is full of managers and figures of authority, where they are always treated with respect. Everyone is polite in front of these guys. How they are talked about behind their backs, however, is another story. Having said that, in my observation spanning over two decades, I can tell you that when it comes to the idea of respect at work, the singular most important factor is just one word.

Competence.

Competent people command more respect naturally. There may be those who are jealous of these people or don’t support them for whatever reason but secretly they envy competent people. If you are competent at what you do, a shark, an absolute expert, you will be respected. The less competent you are, the more you have to rely on rumor mills, games, and other useless ploys. Of course, if you are competent and you can communicate it to others, it’s a killer combination. No competence equals little respect.

Does that mean competent people always rise to the top? Please note I am not suggesting that your competency will give you success (although the odds are heavily in your favor). I’m saying that competence will earn you respect. And there’s something remarkable about such respect: it fuels your self-esteem, self-worth, and a sense of wellbeing.

Those who rise to the top by being manipulative or political not only remain deeply insecure but also suffer from low self-esteem. Interestingly, they also possess some or all the traits of a narcissistic person.

Personal Respect

Sometimes you may be very charitable, competent, or helpful and yet, in personal relationships, you feel you are not getting the respect you deserve. Truth be told, not only our respect towards others is not absolute, but the very idea of respect itself is also relative. Based on our expectations, conditioning, and what have you, we believe we deserve a certain kind of respect. When we get more than we deserve, we have their attention and when they aren’t respecting us as much as we feel they should, they have our attention. But beyond this tug of war, there are two utterly simple ways of understanding and getting respect in personal relationships.

A. Never put up with disrespectful behavior

I can’t even begin to tell you how important this is. If you accept disrespect at the beginning of any relationship, you will find yourself forever struggling to fix that aspect. How two people or new family members treat each other in the first few weeks of meeting pretty much sets the tone of that relationship for the rest of their lives. 

If you are going to accept disrespectful behavior today, tomorrow, it’ll get worse. Therefore, if you love yourself and want any sense of peace and equality in your personal relationships, make it clear in no uncertain terms the respect you seek. If someone is shouting at you today, at the next conflict, they are not going to lower their decibel. If anything, it’ll be higher. Put a stop to it right at the beginning, no matter what the price. Otherwise, the pattern will become: conflict -> argument -> disrespect -> distance -> apology -> repeat. This pattern creates excess baggage.

B. Don’t be clingy

This is more common than we’d like to accept. At times, a relationship has turned sour and there’s no soul left in it but the needy party continues to tag along. That need could be social, financial, or emotional, but we cling when we no longer believe in ourselves. We cling when we don’t respect ourselves. And let me tell you, there’s no respect without self-respect. 

If you are being disrespected and you are putting up with it, could it be because you need the other person for whatever reason? If the answer is yes, the news is not too good. It means there came a moment in your life when you stopped loving yourself, that moment when you let someone disrespect you simply because they could. It means you accepted that moment. There is very little hope of now getting respect from this person. Reason? They actually don’t respect you anymore and you gave them the liberty to be disrespectful to you at some point in time. Even if they want to, they will struggle to reverse their behavior. The only silver lining is that it’s not impossible but it requires that you take a bold step.

In personal relationships, remember the golden rule: whatever negative behavior you accept even once will only worsen over time.

Ultimately, the least everyone deserves is respect. And the paradox is that it can’t be granted as such, it has to be earned. If you deserve respect but don’t get it, you must take charge of your life. On the other hand, no matter how much you dislike someone, never deprive them of respect, even if out of politeness. For, respect is an acknowledgment of your existence. And, that is a big deal, one of the most fundamental human needs.

A lady visited Mulla Nasrudin’s pharmacy and asked for a dose of potassium cyanide which was denied instantly. When she wouldn’t relent, Mulla asked her what she needed the lethal chemical for.

“My husband’s been going around with a woman,” she said. “I’ll lace his tea with it.”
“Forgive him, Lady,” Mulla said. “Why carry so much anger in your heart? Besides, I can’t just hand you the chemical. It’ll be illegal to do that.”

Without another word, the lady took out a set of photos from her handbag and slid them across the counter. Mulla took one look and realized that the woman this man had been going around with was none other than his own wife.
“Well, now that’s different, Madam,” he said. “You didn’t tell me you had the prescription.”

The truth is irrespective of the setting — social, professional, or personal — if your self-respect is in a coffin, your respect is already buried deep in the ground. An equally important truth is that we can love ourselves even if we haven’t done anything special, for self-attachment is a natural phenomenon. But when it comes to self-respect, it is only possible if we genuinely have invested ourselves in anything worthwhile. The rest is noise.

If you want respect, simply ask yourself three things:
Am I selfless?
Am I competent?
Do I have self-respect?

And, if you really want to get a grip on respect, bear in mind three things:

Social respect is a repayment. That is, you’ve already lent the world something you have (resources, wisdom, time, etc.) and they pay you back by giving you respect.

Professional respect is a payment. That is, you are awarded respect for your competence and position.

Personal respect is an inheritance. By virtue of the relationship and bond you share, you are entitled to some respect by default. And as with any inheritance, it’s so easy to squander it away. Invest and guard it carefully. 

In a nutshell: you can make a world of difference in someone’s life just by giving them respect. Besides, it’s not a favor to those around us but our moral obligation. Just do it.

Peace.
Swami
PS. A few days back I had the opportunity to interact with the famous author Amish, and his sister, Bhavna Roy, as they have co-authored Dharma. You can catch the conversation here

PPS. In case, you haven’t noticed we now have a separate YouTube channel, os.me, where all my English videos will be posted. You can subscribe to it here. This channel will continue to feature wonderful people who make this world a better place with their talent and contribution.