I want R-E-S-P-E-C-T

  • PublishedMarch 31, 2014

This column is often inspired by what I see around me or observe in society. Respect for others and ourselves, seems to be a diminishing virtue. I was taught in Sunday school to respect my elders and those in authority, and to always aspire to do good to earn respect. ‘Liking’ was not a virtue I was taught and yet it seems to have replaced respect in dealings with others and ourselves.

Aretha Franklin was right: RESPECT is more important than being liked. In our clamour to succeed socially, politically and financially, we have misplaced an important virtue, respect. Many people seem so eager to be liked that they will do anything to earn some approval, irrespective of whether it is morally right. Indeed, many people confuse being liked with respect. People will like you for many reasons – you employ them, you feed them, you give them handouts, you are their leader, but do they really respect you? I believe each one of us needs to do everything possible to earn respect and in the same breath respect those who deserve it. I don’t care about being liked, but please respect me for what I stand for, for my good deeds and actions.

It is respect that takes us farther down the road to success, especially when you are a leader, and not your money, not your oratory skills, not your education or your ability to mobilise people behind your schemes.  Being liked will attract others to you because you are “nice” or ‘beautiful” or “generous” or “powerful” or “rich”, whereas being respected makes others acknowledge your competence, skills and values. By practicing values you hold dear, like being a person who can be trusted, being honest and truthful in all your dealings, and using your skills and competence to the best of your ability, you will command respect with those you come across or those you work with.

But also bear in mind that our value-system has changed so much and many people have become ‘idol-worshippers’ – you will have a following when you tell lies, are wealthy (never mind the source of your wealth), belong to such and such a family, are politically connected, or donate huge sums of money to a cause. You must refuse to use any other measure to earn respect than what you stand for, and what is morally right. Don’t worry that you will be excluded – it’s not worth endearing yourself to people who do not have a value system.

Forget about those who like you because of what you have and the doors you can help open for them; regardless of your position, you need to generate a respectful approval to your work, to your co-workers, to your friends and family, and your place on the team. It doesn’t matter how small one is, or how small their contribution; if you value them you will earn their respect. If you only respect those who donate big money to your cause, or those who always agree with you, or those who are willing to bend the truth to gain your approval, your respect is not worth it, nor are you worthy of respecting. Treat everyone as you wish to be treated, if you want to earn respect. You don’t have to love them, or even like them, but you need to respect them and their positions, just as they need to respect you.

What if people don’t treat you well or respect you despite your best efforts? You must learn to deal with it strategically. Sooner or later the truth will come out. If they expect you to lie or be who you are not so as to show you some respect, stand on the side of truth and your value-system. Keep off manipulative people and don’t give them room to undermine you. Under the best circumstances, respect will get you noticed by those who matter.

Sometimes we are afraid to take a stand or a position for fear we won’t be liked. But keep in mind, followers are liked and leaders are respected. Get the picture? Your goal is to be respected. In order to attain respect, you must be willing to take a stand that may be unpopular. Leaders are often tested in this way; however, its important not to be intimidated by what others may think or to second-guess yourself. When you second-guess yourself, you become paralysed, you can’t make a decision and you lose respect.

In order to earn respect, you must stand for something and treat people the way you want to be treated. You really don’t have to be liked to be respected. And remember, being popular isn’t the only thing that matters, and leadership is not synonymous with friendship. Respect is a two way street – you earn it when you give it to others. So, respect is all we need.

Published on April 2014

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