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Here’s to respect in 2018

Christmas always reminds me of all the good in people.

New Year's Eve 2017

Christmas is a season of giving and receiving, of being nice, grateful, reflective; it’s an emotional period filled with kindness and compassion during which we tend to take time off and spend it with our loved ones; it’s also a time when we are getting ready for a fresh start in the New Year, full of hopes, dreams, plans and expectations. I’d even say that it’s a time when people show more respect for each other. Looking back at 2017, the world was bitterly reminded about the lack of respect when the hashtag #MeToo became a rallying cry against women harassment (or harassment in general I should say as some men joined in as well). I applaud the movement; it remains to be seen, however, whether #MeToo was strong enough to have the power to move the social campaign to a lasting social change.

As children, we are taught to respect the elderly, the authorities, the parents, and many others. As adults, we form our own views and create a list of criteria resulting from our upbringing and background, based on which we respect others and by which we wish to be respected. That can change as we go through life.

I grew up in a society indirectly encouraging disrespect to authorities. That kind of disrespect happens when you are forced to believe in half-truths and lies, when you know reality is bent on purpose and in favour of the privileged, when you don’t blindly trust the distorted reality imposed on you.

Under the communist regime, many people who were not willingly members of the communist party sometimes had to make a hard decision potentially resulting in losing self-respect as well as respect from others. They had a choice – either to join the ‘collaborators’ club’ and report on friends’ and family’s activities, which, for example, ensured their children can get into schools of their choice, or to refuse and then face consequences: in better cases, if there’s any such thing, this ‘only’ complicated their career aspirations and potentially also the life of their children; in worse cases, they may have ended up in prison. It must have been a surprise for a few to have found their relatives in the government files opened to the public after the Velvet Revolution.

Respect goes a long way in developing a harmonious home, work and social environment. Communication is clear and appropriate among individuals who respect each other. A respectful person shows a positive attitude, is courteous, listens to others and treats people fairly. People who show respect for others often gain respect in return.

However, I feel that respect may be disappearing from today’s society, and not just as a result of the revelations of the #MeToo campaign. It may be due to a massive increase of interactions by email and social media – it appears to be easier to write something rude and nasty than to say it directly to someone’s face. The world is diametrically different now (note I didn’t say better) but it is also much more complex and complicated. We have all the technology that should make our lives easier and therefore, we should be able to give more time to each other, creating great moments. Instead, we let technology divide and separate us.

On the other hand, the world has become super-sensitive – to diversity, to language nuances, to different religions, to dress codes, among others – now people are even afraid to be just simply honest (while being respectful) as the world seems to have lost perspective and judgement. This sadly reminds me of the communist times when you were watching your tongue as you weren’t sure who was actually reporting on you. I never wish to experience such life in fear ever again.

Respect is needed in this dichotomous world to foster peace and kindness among people. Partners who respect each other in relationships are much happier than those who do not. A child who respects the requests of his/her parents shows good character. Elderly people in nearly every culture command respect. In the business world, business leaders who demonstrate respect are more likely to form better partnerships with all stakeholders. When managers and employees respect one another, they’re able to communicate well and collaborate to achieve business goals.

And logically, by showing less respect, you get less of: productivity from your colleagues at work, affection from your closest ones, the good service you deserve, to mention but a few. It’s ‘respect disconnect’ which creates a sense of unhappiness, anxiety, inferiority as has been proven by research.

After examining 70 years’ worth of studies, researchers concluded that we crave being valued by others regardless of our gender or culture, even if we might not be aware of it. The team at the University of California, Berkeley, said having a high social standing makes us healthier in the long-term, claiming the strongest test for their hypothesis was whether low status makes us ill. Researchers also showed that those with low status in communities, peer groups or workplaces suffer more from depression and chronic anxiety and cardiovascular disease.

Looking at a workplace in more detail, data from the Society for Human Resource Management shows that while “72% of employees rated respectful treatment of employees at all levels as ‘very important’ to their job satisfaction, only 33% said they were ‘very satisfied’ with this aspect”.

Respect is so important and Confucius expressed it succinctly: “Without feelings of respect, what is there to distinguish men from beasts?”. Respect shows that one values another as an individual, and that he/she honours the personal rights and dignity of the person as a fellow human being. Therefore, respect must be preserved as it can go a long way in solving and even preventing many of the mistakes, mishaps or dangers we face in our society. Only by respecting ourselves, others, and the environment that we live in can we truly live in a better world.

It can be as simple as this: “Treat others as you want to be treated.” It does work. So here’s to 2018 filled with humanity, good will, respect, tolerance and love.

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