A Gospel Perspective
Based on a Workshop Presented at the 2006 Conference of Evergreen International
By Stephen Rex Goode
The ideas expressed in the workshop are based on my definitions of the terms as I use them here in my work as a skills trainer of developmentally delayed adults and a mentor to at risk youth. If you have different definitions, I encourage you to consider what I present as a new way to look at respect.
A Definition of Respect
Respect is believing and behaving as if human beings have the ability to deal with difficult information, consequences, circumstances, or choices.
Respect versus Esteem
I have consciously chosen to use terminology related to “respect” instead of “esteem”. I view the ideas of respect and esteem differently. As I use them here, respect is an active attitude toward yourself and others when esteem is a feeling that doesn’t involve action as much as just thinking and feeling. In other words, respect is active and esteem is passive.
Respect reflects an attitude of humility coupled with courage. It is related to humility because it accepts the possibility that I might need to approach relationships with a belief that I can do or accept the difficult when it is necessary, which requires courage. This may include the possibilities that I am wrong or that a negative idea I have about myself may actually be true. Many people who lay claim to self-esteem may choose to ignore unpleasant information about themselves. This can lead to pride and refusing to accept the difficult task of correcting problems. To deal with unpleasantness, one must confront it.
Respect can exist independent of the positive and negative. We can respect others that we do not feel like respecting. As a social worker, I am often called upon to treat clients with respect who have done things that are not respectable. If I can respect people who have done, thought, or felt things that are not respectable, then I do so with the humility that comes with the understanding that I have been in the same condition. I accept that I am in no position to judge. Esteem, on the other hand, is often given as a matter of class difference or other unearned or undeserved criteria. For this and many other reasons, I prefer respect.
Question: Does God respect us?
The scriptures tell us that God is not a respecter of persons. The apostle Paul wrote:
But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God;
Who will render to every man according to his deeds:
To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life:
But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath,
Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile;
But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile:
For there is no respect of persons with God.
This scripture emphatically states that God is not a respecter of persons. I looked this statement up in Strong’s Greek Lexicon. I found that “respecter of persons” is translated from the Greek word prosopolepsia, which means, “the fault of one who when called on to give judgment has respect of the outward circumstances of man and not to their intrinsic merits, and so prefers, as the more worthy, one who is rich, high born, or powerful, to another who does not have these qualities.:
“Respect” as I use it here is not the same as what is used in the scripture, but the scripture does present a good example of God showing for us the kind of respect as we have defined it. If respect is believing and behaving as if human beings have the ability to deal with difficult information, consequences, circumstances, or choices, then God respects us by giving us the difficult information that our sins lead to eternal trouble. In this sense, then, God respects us.
We read in the Pearl of Great Price:
And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell;
And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;
And they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate; and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever.
Here is another scripture that demonstrates Heavenly Father’s respect for us. This life was designed to be a place to test us and give us challenges to help us grow. According to our definition of respect, this is consistent with an attitude towards His children that we can deal successfully with the trials of life if we choose to do so.
In the great Plan of Happiness, the alternatives we were given in the pre-existence show a distinct difference in the attitudes towards us of those who presented the two plans.
|That Satan, whom thou hast commanded in the name of mine Only Begotten, is the same which was from the beginning, and he came before me, saying.Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor. – Moses 4:1||But, behold, my Beloved Son, which was my Beloved and Chosen from the beginning, said unto me.Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever. – Moses 4:2|
Consider again our definition of respect:
Respect is believing and behaving as if human beings have the ability to deal with difficult information, consequences, circumstances, or choices.
How can we then apply this definition to our relationships with others? I suggest five ways.
Showing Respect for Others
- Honesty with compassion
- Boundaries with consequences
- Support without rescue
- Respects agency and allows self-government
- Service with permission
Honesty with Compassion
It has often been said, “It’s all in the delivery,” when we talk about communication. I suggest that it’s not all in the delivery. Sometimes the truth must be told. While being sensitive to how difficult information might be received, when we withhold vital information solely because we don’t believe the other person can handle it, it shows our lack of respect for the other person.
Jesus demonstrated this in his encouter with the woman at the well. Note how he preceded calling attention to her faults with the hope of redemption.
Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.
Jesus saith unto her, Go, call thy husband, and come hither.
The woman answered and said, I have no husband. Jesus said unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband:
For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly.
Boundaries with Consequences
We all have the right and the responsibility to define our space. You can decide and communicate how you want to be treated by others and what behavior you will tolerate in others. Though you can’t control others, you can choose in what ways you will walk away from disrespect.
The Lord showed this with our first parents:
And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:
But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.
Support without Rescue
When someone you care about struggles with problems and you desire to be of support, ask yourself, “Who is it about?” A respectful person can handle being present and supportive while you struggle. A disrespectful person wants to rescue you from your struggle for selfish reasons. When we want to rescue others from their difficulties, we should look at our own motives.
Motives or Attributes of Rescuers
- Uncomfortable with chaos and choices.
- Desire to be the hero of the situation.
- Anxious for praise and credit.
- Does the talking or leading.
- Focused on self.
Attributes of Supporters
- Willing to let you discover your own answers.
- Has confidence in you.
- Honored to be present with you. Sees you as the hero.
- Follows your lead and listens.
- Focused on you.
People who have a tendency to be rescuers are more self-focused than they seem on the outside. Wanting to rescue is not as unselfish as it seems.
They are this way based on a variety of motives. For many, the chaos of your situation makes them uncomfortable so they seek to restore their own feelings of comfort by rescuing you from your situation or feelings. They do this sometimes by minimizing your feelings, not directly but in the way they deal with your feelings. They might do this through trying to explain to you why your feelings aren’t accurate to the real situation. Using this method usually doesn’t involve them actually knowing the real situation. They’ll speculate and try to get you to see things in a way that leaves you wondering if your feelings are justified and even doubting whether your perception of what is happening to you is real. Causing self-doubt is disrepectful. It’s important to note that they may be right about the situation. Even if they are right, it is irrelevant and disrespectful. The better approach, the approach that supporters take, is to encourage you to talk about the situation and respect you that as you talk things over, you have the ability to discover the truth. The supporter doesn’t assume he knows the situation, that he isn’t even in, better than you, who are in it, knows.
Another motive of rescuers is the desire to be perceived to be the hero. An enduring image in our post-European culture is that of the night in shining armor rescuing the damsel in distress. Rescuers want to be perceived just like that: strong, capable, skilled, and unfortunately, superior. A rescuer will blaze into your situation and give you the benefit of their dubious experience with the hope in mind that you’ll lavish lots of public praise upon them for how they were there for you in trying times. I remember when I was a Scoutmaster, working hard to do those things the Lord had called me to do. My motives were mostly out of love for the Savior who asked me to be his Scoutmaster. Despite my mostly pure motives, there was a part of me that felt jealous if I overheard a Scout thanking another youth leader for helping them. It wasn’t enough for me that I often received their thanks. I wanted to be the knight in shining armor and was jealous of others. Wanting to be thanked is a poor motive for helping another. It’s nice to be thanked, but when you don’t get the kind of thanks you think you deserve, what was your motive for helping in the first place? Rather than being a knight in shining armor, a supportive and respectful person has confidence in you to be able to deal with your own problems. They see their task as being to be with you, strengthening you, while you do your own work of dealing with your own problems.
A supportive person sees you as the hero and is honored to be present with you. Such a person feels more like thanking you for the honor than receiving your thanks for something that you did. A rescuer wants praise and credit born out of their own lack of respect for themselves.
Have you ever had a person sit you down and tell you everything he or she plans to do to help you? How did you feel? Maybe you felt relieved because you weren’t sure what to do and hoped that someone would come and take charge. Maybe you felt uncomfortable with it but weren’t sure why. Maybe you were disappointed because the litany of proposed solutions betray a complete lack of understanding of what you are experiencing. Maybe it felt downright disrespectful to be so lacking in listening skills. A supportive person listens and only helps in ways you request.
In the scriptures, we see how this worked. Notice that Heavenly Father did not rescue the Savior from the work He needed to do for us, but did send a supporter:
Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.
And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.
Respects Agency and Allows Self-Government
It would also do well to ask ourselves when encountering friends in trouble, “Whose problem is it anyway?” As with a lot of communication that includes respect, it may seem a little callous to say that another’s troubles are not our own. Yet, it is true that we can’t take away another’s decision. A respectful person has his say and then allows others to decide their own actions without trying any kind of control.
At this point, you may be objecting to this line of thinking. You might be thinking that this is contrary to the fact that the Savior did rescue us; did take upon himself our sins and sorrows; does take our troubles for us and deal with them. In defense of these ideas, I point out that there is a difference between knowing without doubt that without his help we could not do it for ourselves and believing that we are necessary to another’s success when we aren’t. In terms of dealing with the consequences of sin, we are not capable at all of doing that in the eternal sense. A Savior was absolutely necessary. In relationships, we tend to think of ourselves as necessary to another when we aren’t. Remember that the Savior performed the work he was called upon to do, but still leaves the acceptance of that work up to us. A supportive person leaves the choice up to the person he is supporting.
Joseph Smith, as quoted by John Taylor, said, “I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves (The Millenial Star (15 Nov. 1951, p. 339)).” Years ago, when I was called to be an Elders Quorum President, I came across a manual for priesthood leadership that described five steps to effective leadership. I memorized these steps because they were so profound to me. I can’t give a proper citation to them, since I no longer have those manuals. The steps were:
- Respect Agency and Allow Self-Government
In those third and fourth steps, I had a formula not only for my calling at the time, but for all future human relationships. When I, as a leader, delegate a task to another, it is not my task then to find ways to hover over that person and make sure he is doing things the way I would do them. It’s not even my place to see him heading for a wrong decision and prevent him from making it. Wouldn’t it be strange if the Lord came down to us before we make a mistake and prevented us from making it? One candidate for becoming lord actually intended to do it that way, but we chose the other. How many of us, though, lead in just the same improper way?
What the Lord does for us is epitomized in these two ideas of respecting agency and giving service. We can cast our burdens on him and he will gladly and joyfully bear them, but he doesn’t come lift them off of us without our permission. It is not respectful to control someone. It is respectful, however, to offer our service and then follow the lead of the person we are offering to help.
Service with Permission
When you desire to help, ask yourself from the point of view of the one you’re trying to help, “Are you trying to help me or hinder me?” Some of your damsels in distress feel like you are trying to make things worse and you often may be. When you offer help, make sure that what you are offering is helpful. Better still, just offer help and let the other person tell you how to help.
In a wonderful video I’ve seen about communicating with disabled people, it was said, “If you offer assistance, wait until the offer is accepted. Then listen or ask for instructions (the Fourth Commandment from The Ten Commandments of Communicating with Disabled People Video).” You can create a lot of problems or resentment by disrespecting a disabled person by doing for them things they can do for themselves or doing things for them that they can’t do for themselves in ways that are humiliating or degrading. Remember that we all have various physical, emotional, and mental weaknesses and those around you deserve to be helped in ways that are helpful.
Application to Ourselves
How can we apply, then, these ideas about respect to respecting ourselves? A modified verson of our respect definition, as it applies to self-respect, would be:
Self-respect is believing and behaving as if I have the ability to deal with difficult information, consequences, circumstances, or choices.
This is different than the idea of self-esteem, which can sometimes lead us to believe that there is nothing that we cannot handle. The cult of postiive mental attitude can deceive us into foolish and dangerous attitudes. With self-respect, though, it is not about thinking ourselves impurvious to challenges. It is about believing that we can deal with them.
Showing Respect for Myself
- Self-honesty with compassion
- Honor my own boundaries
- Communicate my feelings
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help
- Stand against injustice
As we become aware of our weaknesses, deficiencies, and errors, some philosophies would have us deal with this awareness by constructing a new awareness by the use of affirmations. Such affirmations are not necessarily wrong, but when they encourage us to ignore things in our lives that need our attention and work, they are not helpful. It is certainly good to foster a better self-image, something essential to avoiding future bad behavior. It is not good, however, to fail to own the things that are true about us. Without acknowledging things, we cannot work on them. Self-honesty is an essential part of self-improvement. Sometimes that self-honesty is difficult, but with self-respect we can believe ourselves to be able to deal with the honesty and make necessary changes. While doing this, we need to be as compassionate towards ourselves as we are towards our friends, and hopefully we are very compassionate to everyone. It is possible to acknowledge our faults and be compassionate towards ourselves at the same time.
If respectful people honor the boundaries of others, they can honor their own. If I tell myself that I must stay out of certain kinds of places, self-respect means that I will do as I have promised myself.
People with self-respect communicate with others. The wonderful thing about respect is that you can exercise self-respect without sacrificing proper respect for others. If someone has hurt my feelings, I can respect myself by taking on the difficult task of expressing my feelings and respect the other by respecting his ability to deal with the information that I was upset by his actions. In this way, it really does depend on the delivery. Own your feelings as being how you reacted while not letting the other person off the hook for his behavior.
Unlike self-esteem, where I look upon myself as able to deal with things alone, self-respect encourages me to deal with what I can, but also requires me to ask for help when I need it. It allows me to be truthful about my needs because I respect myself to be able to deal with the embarrassment.
Self-respect helps me be bold and unflinching in standing up against injustice. It tells me that I can deal with the backlash of evil people when I hold fast to my integrity.
Prerequisites for Respect
- Humility with Courage
- Understanding of principles
- Devotion to rights
- Acceptance of responsibility
We’ve discussed already the interplay between humility and courage. Being a respectful person requires you to spend some time pondering and practicing the principles of respect in your relationships with others and with yourself. Our natural inclination is to be disrespectful and self-centered. To be otherwise requires effort and study.
Developing respect requires a devotion to honesty and integrity. It doesn’t involve saying everything that comes into our heads. When we lie to someone about the impact of their behavior, either by saying it doesn’t bother us or by failing to speak up when we should, we show our lack of respect.
Some will recognize this as assertiveness. Assertiveness is the result of respect. Having respect is inspired by a devotion to the rights of human beings to self-determination, liberty, and information, but is a perfect balance between our own individual rights and the rights of others.
Respect also involves an acceptance of the notion of responsibility. Like rights, it is the perfect balance between accepting responsibility for our own actions, thoughts, or feelings, and holding others accountable for the impact of their behavior, thoughts, and feelings.
Rights and Responsibility
We can look at life in three ways: Passive disrepect, aggressive disrespect, and assertive respect. It looks like this:
|Passive Disrespect||Assertive Respect||Aggressive Disrespect|
Application to Same-Sex Attraction for Strugglers
- Self-respecting people don’t do things that no self-respecting person would do. Work to develop your self-respect.
- In the pursuit of getting appropriate same-sex needs met, don’t give away control to someone else. You can’t get self-respect by disrespecting yourself.
- With mentors, therapists, parents, and even priesthood leaders, retain your agency and rights to self-government. No one else can solve your problems for you. Seek support, not rescue.
- Recognize that as hard as same-sex attraction can be, the Lord respected you enough to allow it to be part of your human condition. He didn’t cause it, but he promises it won’t be too much for you to bear (1 Corinthians 10:13).
- Don’t be afraid to set boundaries for how you want to be treated. Respect your own rights.
- Even if you have committed serious sins, you have basic human rights to dignity and fair treatment.
- Repentance isn’t helped by self-punishment. If you repent, there will be no punishment. If you don’t repent, whatever you inflict upon yourself is nothing in comparison to what awaits you (D&C 19). Repent, therefore.
- Be grateful for correction. “Whom the Lord loves, he chastens (Hebrews 12:6).”
Application to Same-Sex Attraction for Supporters
- Don’t be afraid to set boundaries.
- Respect the struggler’s rights to agency and self-government.
- Recognize that as hard as supporting someone with same-sex attraction can be, the Lord respected you enough to allow it to be part of your life.