During this election season I’ve been thinking a lot about respect. What is respect? How do we give it? How do we earn it?
The Apostle Paul talks about respect in his letter to the Romans, where Jesus says, (Romans 13:7-8)
“Pay to all what is due them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”
Although Miriam-Webster lists “admiration” as a synonym and the first definition of the word “respect,” their second definition is what I am thinking of today: “a feeling or understanding that someone or something is important, serious, etc., and should be treated in an appropriate way.” As followers of Jesus, we are called to treat all people with respect because every person is important to God. Parents teach their sons and daughters to respect their elders, to respect their teachers, and to respect their boyfriend or girlfriend. Respect has always seemed to me to be a foundational truth of what it means to be Christian in our society. To respect one another is akin to Jesus words to ‘love one another” (John 13:34).
So it was with particular surprise ten years ago when I experienced disrespect directed personally at me, not for any qualities present in my life, but because I was initiating a discussion on a difficult issue. The setting was this: I was asked by my committee chair to present an issue for a vote. A colleague stood and spoke opposing our motion. Instead of attacking the committee or its work, his attack turned personal. He attacked me and my integrity, though he did not know me or the circumstances that had led to my presenting the motion. A mutual friend and colleague later called him on his behavior. And in my email the next day I received a short note, saying “I understand that what I said at the meeting may have upset you. My bad.”
When I watch the presidential election coverage, I am reminded of my colleague’s “my bad” apology. It was not really an apology. As we teach our children, an apology has these distinct steps.
- You acknowledge your behavior, saying “I am sorry for …” “Upsetting you” does not describe behavior. “Making assumptions about your character and sharing those false assumptions with others” describes the behavior.
- You apologize for the effect your behavior had on the other person, saying “It was wrong because…” “It was wrong because my words were a lie, and that lie caused you harm.”
- You say what you will do differently in the future. “In the future I will not speak about a person’s character unless I know that person.”
- Finally, you ask for forgiveness “Will you forgive me?”
With prayers for this election season,