Monday, 27 June 2016

Love and Respect

They say a woman's greatest need is to be loved, and a man's greatest need is to be respected. While this isn't necessarily true in all cases, to some degree or another, it probably is true in most. But the definitions of "love" and "respect" differ from person to person, and in relationships, what may be "loving" to one person is actually "disrespectful" to another.

To define "love" and "respect", especially in a relationship, takes thought and care. I highly recommend Gary Smalley's book, "The 5 Love Languages", for a great discussion on the definitions of love. In brief, he suggests that everyone speaks a different "love language", that is, a different way of receiving and giving love. And if one person, especially in a couple, receives love in a drastically different way than their partner, there's a definite disconnect in those loving feelings we all look for.

The five main love languages include: physical touch (hugs, kisses, holding hands, etc), words (appreciation, compliments, etc), time (long conversations, doing things together, etc), service (doing a chore for the other person, holding the door, etc), and gifts (flowers, cards, jewellry, etc). To some degree, we all see these things as love, but the things you prefer most -- and the things you instinctively want to do for another you care for  -- are your personal love language. So if your first thought is to buy your partner a gift to show them how much you care, then your love language is probably gifts.

There's a problem when you like to give gifts, but don't necessarily spend a lot of time with the other person, and all they want to do is have a long conversation with you. You'll see their need to talk as a nuisance, and they'll see your gifts as inappropriate and insincere. Recognition of the different ways to express and needs to receive love will save a lot of difficult conversations and hurt feelings over misunderstandings.

However, I think there's the same kind of communication issues when it comes to the issue of respect. The common definition of respect is the idea of giving value to something or someone, or recognizing worth or honor. But how you give value or recognize worth depends on the same things that people give love.

I would suggest that respect is given in many different ways: courtesy (manners, etiquette, etc), deference (giving place to another, preferring them over yourself, etc), recognition (appreciation, awards, asking for advice, etc), attention (listening when they speak, watching for and asking their preferences), and consideration (keeping your promises, not assuming anything about them, being on time, protecting their space/time/possessions as your own).  Unlike the love languages, these aren't instinctive, but are often based on cultural or family-of-origin teaching. And again, unlike the love languages, there probably isn't one or two primarily preferred ways of showing respect, but that everyone wants respect, in an hierarchical form based on the degree of intimacy in your relationship.

Forms of respect are hierarchical in nature. The proverb is trespect is earned.  And this is true, to a large degree, though everyone deserves the respect due them based on the simple fact of Imageo Deo -- that they are image-bearers of God.

In fact, that is the bottom of the ladder of respect: courtesy.  Courtesy is that polite treatment of everyone you interact with, regardless of creed or color, status or gender, that most people learn at an early age from mom. It's saying "please" and "thank you" and "excuse me". It's holding the door open, or smiling. This kind of respect is the basic human
kindness that we should be showing everyone.

Unfortunately, all too many times its lost to prejudice. Whether racism, sexism, ageism, ableism, or some other "ism", if there is an antagonism based on another person's birth circumstances, appearance or beliefs, there will not be respect. Bigotry robs everyone of the respect they're due, simply because they are human. It stems from a lack of value on human life. When we don't even value life itself, then even the most basic courtesies are conditional, when they shouldn't be.

Deference is that form of respect that we give to those we are in nominal relationship with. These are the people that surround us --  extended family, neighbours, fellow members of church, gym or clubs, the parents of your children's friends, your boss and co-workers. This is the kind of respect that gives honor. It's letting them ahead of you in line at the potluck or social gathering. It's not passing judgement on others' choices, refraining from gossip or sharing of confidences. It's being agreeable (when there is no cost to agreeing) -- things like the choice of restaurant or music. It's graciousness and generosity. This kind of respect is the humble giving over to another, treating them as of equal or more value than yourself.

The danger here is to walk the fine line of agreeableness without agreeing to things that are wrong. It can also be problematic to be so generous that people end up taking advantage of you. Respect doesn't enable sin. However, you can still be respectful and disagree without giving offense.

The next form of respect is recognition. This kind of respect gives public honor to those who have earned it. This is the kind of respect we all think of when we think of showing respect. It can be as simple as a gentleman standing in the presence of a lady, or removing a hat while the national anthem is sung. It's the kind of respect that leads to banquets to recognize achievements or awards given to people who have performed special service. Recognition is the most public form of respect, but is often at a distance. And often, the respect of recognition is given to the office or title, rather than the person themselves.

The biggest issue with recognition as respect is ensuring that it's sincere. We can often go through the motions and mouth recognition without actually having the respect behind it. Especially when the respect is due the title of the person, such as a president, mayor, or pastor, and the person themselves aren't actually worthy of the respect due to character defects or immoral behaviour, it can be very difficult to give genuine recognition.

The higher forms of respect are those we give the ones that we are more intimate with. First, attention, which is simply what it says: giving one's full attention to the person we are in relationship with. It's paying attention when they talk, actually listening to what they say. It's paying attention to what they like and dislike, and taking the time to ask their preference. It's a carefulness about how you treat them, more than just basic courtesy, but an extension of that. This attentive respect is making their coffee the way they like it, or showing interest in their hobby. To the degree you pay attention, you show how much you value your relationship with them.

Carelessness can destroy this kind of respect. It can be hard work to pay attention consistently. When you show  disregard for someone's preferences, or zone out during their conversation, you show how little you value that person.

The highest form of respect is consideration. Consideration is as much about how much you respect yourself as the other person. This kind of respect is having the character to keep your promises, to respect another's time and space, to have integrity. This is showing up on time for dinner, and calling when you are leaving. It's about sharing your plans and including others. Its about saying what you mean and meaning what you say. It's a thoughtfulness that marks your relationship as special. It's the Golden Rule: treating others the way you would want to be treated. When you are considerate, you show all the other forms of respect - courtesy, deference, recognition and attention - only taken up a degree in kindness and generosity.

Deliberate disdain will kill consideration. Respect is all about showing how much you value someone. Thoughtlessness and neglect devalue those you say you care for the most. When you are heedless of the effects on other people, it's a lack of respect for those people. Being consistently late -- not because of a lack of time management skills, but because you don't care about their plans or needs shows great disrespect. Taking their things -- their clothes or food, for example -- without regard to their wishes, is complete disregard of your relationship with someone. You show just how much you care about someone by how considerate you are of them.

Love languages are important. But if you truly love someone, you'll show them great respect.

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