In Why This Way, we believe in treating all people with respect, reflected both in our core beliefs and practices. People do not always agree on exactly what respect means or looks like. Ideas and beliefs about respect can vary culturally, as well as from one individual to another.
Our ideas of respect will not necessarily harmonize with all people's ideas of respect. We have agreed upon our interpretation of respect by consensus, with the goal of creating an approach that will work well in situations with people who do not necessarily share a common culture or values.
Our views of treating people with respect
Here are some ideas that we have established about how to respect other people:
- Communicate honestly and directly. Present your opinions as opinions rather than as universal truth. Take time to listen to and understand what people are saying when you are communicating with them.
- Treat each person as a whole person, not as an object, nor only based on a single quality of them.
- Do not coerce or pressure people into doing things they haven't agreed to.
- Take responsibility for your own actions, and do not attempt to hold other people responsible for things beyond their control, or things that they would not otherwise be responsible for.
- Give consideration before continuing to interact with someone in a certain way if the person has asked you to stop.
- Be considerate of other people's feelings, but do not take responsibility for them.
Our views on how to communicate respectfully are described and explained in great detail in our rules of communication. Although we do not necessarily equate these rules with respectful communication, we believe that the rules often correspond to more respectful ways to communicate, and that many of the more common ways of communicating that we would consider disrespectful violate the rules in one or more ways.
Respect and other people's feelings
One way that people sometimes define being respectful is not hurting other people's feelings. While this is a good thing to think about, we believe that someone can be fully respectful and still hurt people's feelings. We don't control how other people react to our words and actions. The mentality of avoiding hurting someone's feelings at all costs can go against our beliefs in the following ways:
- You may feel responsible for other people's feelings, which you can't control.
- You may feel a need to read into other people's thoughts and motivations so as not to say or do anything that will upset them.
- Sometimes in order for people to be honest or assert themselves in a constructive way, people need to say things that will probably hurt other people's feelings.
While you can be fully respectful and still hurt other people's feelings, we believe that it's still important to be considerate of other people's feelings. Think about how your words and actions might affect other people, although you can't know for sure, and in general, treat people in a way that you think will affect them positively.
Views of respect that conflict with our values
There are many different views and perspectives on respect, and there are some that conflict with the values of Why This Way in various ways. Some of these conflicting views include:
- Identifying respecting people with obeying them
- Respecting only some people and not others
- Trying to enforce respect through coercive means
These differing views of respect often play out in the context of the treatment of children, although they can occur in other contexts as well.
Respect and obedience
Respect and obedience become associated when people assert that someone is being inherently disrespectful if they disobey a rule or authority figure. In Why This Way, we would often disagree with these sorts of assertions, pointing out that there are some circumstances in which a person can disobey rules or the instructions of an authority figure, while being fully respectful of the authority figure or, even in some cases, the spirit of the rules. Examples include:
- Civil disobedience - A person or group may choose to openly disobey a law, without expressing any negative sentiment towards the people enforcing the law. An example of this would be a non-violent sit-ins during the American civil rights movement.
- Ignoring technicalities but obeying the spirit of rules - When the literal wording of a rule or law is in apparent contradiction with its spirit or intended purpose, a person may choose to disobey the literal wording out of a desire to stay true to the spirit or purpose of the rule or law. An authority figure who insists on enforcing the literal wording of the law may see this as disobedience, but the person choosing to break the rule might see them as being more committed to the spirit of the rule. In Why This Way, one of our beliefs specifies that we place more importance in the spirit of our own beliefs and rules than in their literal wording.
Respecting some people but not others
There are many circumstances in which society or culture places more importance on respecting some people than others. In some circumstances, there can be financial motivations or power structures that lead to people being treated with differing amounts of respect. Some examples include:
- Age Discrimination - It is widespread in many societies to place an emphasis on respecting one's elders. It is less common for people to emphasize respecting younger people.
- Wealth or Power - In some circumstances, people with more money or power command greater respect than people with less, because these people can use their money or power to benefit the person treating them with respect. An example would be a business, where there is a greater incentive to be respectful to people who are likely to spend money in the business, than to be respectful to people who are unlikely to.
- Us-Them Mentalities - Some groups can form a strong identity which identifies between insiders and outsiders of a particular group, and then treats outsiders with less respect. Examples of this sort of mentality include racism, favoring the citizen of one's own country over non-citizens, or certain subcultures treating people within the subculture with more respect than the population at large.
Other kinds of respect
In Why This Way, when we talk about respecting people, we mostly mean the aforementioned ideas about treating people with respect, but there are other ways that people define respect, which can refer to some people but not others. For instance, if you trust someone, you are more likely to respect that person's judgment or advice more than someone else's.