The opposite of respect
Disrespect sometimes unhinges some of us humans.
We know that individual narcissists become enraged.
And some entire social structures promote disrespect as sufficient reason to physically harm another person (and even to have a long-term feud or beef or grudge with someone — and maybe with their friends, their relations, or every member of an “other” social structure).
But even folks outside these cases can worry about others’ respect.
What IS respect, that it can have this effect on people?
Respect: modern definition: To honor or esteem. To have regard for. To defer to.
It is a powerful cocktail of approval plus power.
There are hierarchical — almost ritualistic — kinds of actions associated with respect. Respect is something we SHOW.
We may show honor with shrines or money or bowing or doing as someone requests. We may show esteem by offering gifts or jobs or speeches of praise. We may show regard by obeying rules and authority. We may defer — and that linguistically implies a power relationship, even if just for that moment.
Politeness and respect have a tight relationship. I am, for the record, a fan of manners. And sometimes respect shows equality of power — we demonstrate that we do NOT think someone beneath us, after all, when we extend politeness. Nonetheless there is something dangerous about over-concern with respect — in either direction.
“Re”– “spect”: ancient root meaning: To look back at.
Respect isn’t about creativity or new scenarios — it’s about reinforcing a past behavior or old pattern. That’s not always helpful. Yes, sometimes it is wonderful, but we experience life in the forward direction. So, for now, let’s look forward.
There’s a word for that too. In Latin “forward” is pro, so we get…
A prospect is first and foremost a thing: It started as a broad view. A landscape.
Also a place from which you see such an expanse.
Then it morphed into a future possibility.
Perhaps that’s why paintings of landscapes elevate our spirits. And why looking at big views in this mountain west is one of my main and happiest occupations.
We also use “prospecting” to describe an action. As kids in this mountain west, my brother and I thought it meant one thing only, and that thing was our main and happiest occupation when we were 7 and 8: looking for gold.
Perhaps when we stand looking out over a wide scene, we are indeed looking for gold in our future. Because we all want to be prosperous. And that word conjures a different kind of “forward.”
“Spere” comes from the old root spei. This root means flourishing and expanding. Say that root word aloud and you hear how it also turned into the word space.
Expanding space?! Did I hear someone say…
The space-time continuum?!
Aha! You wondered how I was going to work in some physics. Guess what — I didn’t even have to TRY, y’all, because time and space appeared immediately in the word “respect.” [You can skip all this and still get my practical exercise at the end! Jump ahead to the *]
We are able to look because we can see light traveling through space.
And, as you know from watching Star Trek, at the huge cosmic level we actually measure that space in terms of the time it takes light to travel that distance and be seen by us. #light-years!
Just think about that again. We measure space with time.
Visitor: “How far is it to Billings?”
Sheridan resident: “1 1/2 hours“
(Oops — I mean “2 hours,” if any police officers are reading this!)
Einstein figured this out and gave us some elegant symbolic sentences (a.k.a. mathematical equations) to describe the inter-changeability of space and time, but we already knew it at some level because:
This is how we experience space.
It’s how we experience our lives.
A backwards glance is a nod to the past. That’s how we talk. Because, again, that’s how we experience life. The space behind us is where we came from. It’s where we were before now. It’s in our past. It IS our past.
The entire landscape laid out before us, with its sky and earth and inhabitants of both: those are our prospects. Our future. And every landscape carries the sense of largesse. Of spaciousness.
It’s crazy that the Indoeuropean root word equates space with expanding. Because modern physicists know that space is indeed expanding. More recently, they are finding that the rate of that expansion is accelerating. Why? Maybe it has to do with my favorite physics obsession…
With every action that takes place in the world, some energy turns into entropy — energy that is no longer available to do stuff. This energy has become too disorganized for use. It’s undifferentiated. But maybe, at least in my personal theory, it’s available for the opposite: for not-doing with non-stuff no-where. Maybe it’s available for a stillness in space — resting.
Entropy is also termed chaos. And guess the Greek meaning of chaos:
Once again we find spaciousness associated with an opening.
That fits with my experience.
I find that the prosperous feeling of increasing spaciousness is what we’re prospecting for. It IS in fact our prospect, i.e., the landscape spread out before us. It doesn’t care too much about looking back for power-type offerings of approval, nor is it hurt by the lack of them. (It’s just not possible to disrespect this kind of prosperity. It doesn’t compute.)
In a way, this increasing spaciousness is our future, but it’s also our present moment: the time and space we are standing in as we look and see the spaciousness.
It feels like rest.
And it feels chaotic. It has to, really, if chaos is the only way in.
Luckily, you can’t avoid chaos.
Each bit of work you do generates entropy. But so does breathing and sleeping. Every action of living creates a little chaos.
Some feel more chaotic than others.
Feeling disrespected, for example. Or being accused of disrespect by an angry person.
So, yes, I am spending time trying to understand the craving for respect and that craving’s horrible side effects. (Respect for oneself as a concept, plus how that’s tied to embracing your imperfection and vulnerability are turning out to be the most important and interesting parts of that enquiry. I will keep you posted!)
Meanwhile I am fascinated with exploring the chaos (you can do this exercise from any side of the scenario: alleged disrespect-er OR alleged disrespect-ee):
- Recognize that the idea of disrespect is at play.
- Notice the chaotic feeling inside that’s associated with the rage or grudge.
- Breathe it in. This is scary. But if you literally do it with BREATH, you will be okay. Three replenishing breaths in and out.
- Imagine you feel chaos fueling a restfulness or spaciousness inside you. Maybe this is what some call centering, meditation, resting in the presence of the unknown source, or peace. I may not be right about this, at least for you, but check it out with some curiosity. It’s interesting to try.
In other words: you can let disrespect bring you prosperousness.
The first two steps are by far the hardest. How to find that moment of objectivity? Practice, they say. And I know from my own experience that once your inner self experiences the rest of this practice — the peace — it will be a lot more willing to allow you that moment of observation where you pause and consider what could be happening and what you might want to do about it.
Side note: clean anger is a sign that something in the world is not the way we want it to be. As such, anger will give you instructions for how you want to act in the world — to “be the change you want to to see,” as Gandhi said. Those true instructions will not come while you are enraged or plotting revenge. They come from your peaceful inner self. So even if you are sure that you’re entirely justified both in expecting a certain level of respect and in being mad when you don’t get it, this process will work. After the chaos fuels your experience of spaciousness, you may decide to act: to stay away from some other person, reveal some injustice to the world, be fully real with a dynamite therapist, or enact a plan to save the world in some large or small way. As long as your anger’s instructions keep you aligned with peace, it is likely a clean anger. If not, step back and look at what parts of your ideas may not be as fully true as you think. It can be hard to entertain the idea that your thinking is off somewhere, but in the end it is such a huge relief to figure out the most true things. They will never hurt you.
Let me know how it goes for you, ok?
All my best,