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Who to Respect

Two days ago, I listened as one of my acquaintances tried explaining to me why every person isn't deserving of her kindness and respect. She justified herself: she "just didn't like certain people," and that was that.

I pulled away from the conversation, replaying all of her words. I rehearsed what I should have said, but I was too late.

Anyways, was she right? Is it true that only certain people deserve our respect?

I looked up 'respect:' Respect is not the same as trust- in which OUR own being is made vulnerable. Earned trust is what determines how much responsibility we give a person in our lives. Respect also doesn't mean "to obey" or "to agree with," or even "to submit to."

Respect is basically the value we assign to someone: Respect= "a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements."

In this definition, it seems that someone's actions (abilities, qualities, or achievements) should decide how I regard them. How I interpret their abilities, qualities, and achievements will definitely affect how I view and treat them.

BUT- there's a problem with this. In it, another person's value RESTS on OUR opinion of him/her. Often the "abilities, qualities, and achievements" I am analyzing are being ranked on how valuable I believe they are. The reason I believe they are valuable can vary: they serve me, they are similar to my ways, or maybe I fear the person.

In this acquaintance's case, she refused to respect people who annoyed her. But in this, she determined that people are not valuable because of her opinion of them. The dangerous part of this is that we are NOT THE ONES WHO DECIDE INHERENT VALUE. Just because a person is not serving her likeness: making her laugh, agreeing with her, doing everything the way she personally would...does not mean they should be treated disrespectfully.

or at least I don't believe so.

When we justify our behavior towards others because we don't like their abilities, qualities, and achievements, we are saying that our actions to them are dictated by our opinion of them more than God's opinion of them.

I'm not going to lie- it is VERY hard for me to show respect to certain people, let alone FEEL respect for them. In my head, they haven't proven themselves.

But then I remember something: my failure to recognize a person's individual gifts and the ways God has made them is MY problem. Sure, if a person has developed habits that aren't desirable (i.e.: meanness, rudeness, laziness, etc), I could treat them as if they were simply vessels of that one trait. I could decide to hate them... but every person is complex and no one is simply just one trait, or filling just one role in the world.

Just as we hear, "Love the sinner, hate the sin," I believe it's the same for respect. First and foremost, we should be looking to truly SEE a person, and recognize their purpose and place in the world. To do this, we can remember, 'God made this person, loves this person, and gave this person unique gifts.' We can aim to see them as God sees them, hating their acts of meanness and their acts of laziness...but never deciding they are dismissible because the qualities we notice don't impress us.

We don't have to dismiss the sin in a person in order to recognize he/she DOES have value. We don't want to excuse murder and excuse gossip...but it would be very powerful (and God-honoring) if we showed people love and recognition for the gifts and God-given potential they DO possess, even if we notice bad traits as well. We don't have to trust them, but acknowledging their value is different than trust.

I believe that being humble means that we cannot have a larger say than God does for who has value. If anything, knowing that God gave everyone value should be encouragement for us to find the ways he/she shows goodness and beauty.

Albert Einstein once said,

"Everyone is a genius, but if we judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid."

I'm not asking for the definition of respect to change. I'm proposing we look harder for the unique "abilities, qualities, and achievements" that God gave them, and we understand that a person can be different than us, yet still just as inherently valuable in this world. SO instead of deciding which abilities, qualities, and achievements are respectable, I suggest we recognize that all people are fish (of some sort) and were made with some God-given potential to influence the world. The sooner we treat others with respect, we acknowledge their God-given value...and we humble ourselves to say that our perception is not everything.

Published for Grafted Magazine

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