Want to be someone worth respecting? Learning how to earn respect starts with understanding one simple but powerful rule: treat others the way you want to be treated.
Some of us respect people with power. Others respect those with lots of money. And others respect people who are humble, or charitable, or beautiful, or intelligent, or tough.
A gang member may respect his gang leader because of all the members of a rival gang that he’s killed, or for all the time he’s done in prison, or for all the lies he’s told the cops. But would that same member still hold the gang leader in awe if the leader lied to him personally? Would he still have the same respect if the leader wanted to kill him?
Often, without even thinking about it, we treat others as though they are irrelevant.
Respect is given by different people for many different reasons. But when we look at people who are respected, and why they are respected we can quickly see certain trends that will pop out at us. Even when it’s difficult to understand why someone is respected, some of the same rules tend to apply.
People tend not to give respect to others who lie to them, steal from them, or try to kill them. We don’t generally respect those who treat us unjustly or abusively.
Treating others the way we ourselves want to be treated is the most surefire way to earn the respect of those around us. As Jesus teaches in Luke 6:31, “as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.”
We can earn respect by applying this concept in two different ways depending on the situation.
The short and sweet version of treating others as we would like to be treated is, first, to assume that they think like us. Then, ask ourselves, if we were in their situation, how would we like others to treat us? Once we decide how we would like to be treated, we can then treat them the same way.
Acting this way is far better than our natural way of thinking, which is often very self-centered and unconcerned about the plight or circumstances of those around us. Instead of putting ourselves in the shoes of others, we often naturally see them as interlopers or bit-players in our own story. Often, without even thinking about it, we treat others as though they are irrelevant.
The short and sweet version of treating others as we would like to be treated is, first, to assume that they think like us.
Forcing ourselves to think through another person’s situation as though it were our own elevates that person in our minds. And when we give them respect, we will naturally end up behaving toward them in a way that will earn their respect toward us.
While the quick and easy way is to assume that the other person thinks as we do, the truth is that often they will not. Using the quick and easy method above is far better than not even thinking about the other person’s needs, but often, especially with those closest to us, we can still do far, far better.
When we don’t know the other person at all, but instant action is called for, assuming they think like us may be the best we can do to behave in a way that will engender their respect toward us. But what if we know the person doesn’t think the same way we do? What if we know they would despise something that we would appreciate?
The more robust way involves finding out more about the person and trying to do what they themselves would appreciate.
All people are different. Each person has their own individual lens through which they see the world. Each culture and subculture promotes different sets of values. Introverts are different from extroverts; men are different from women; children from adults; nerds from jocks; Americans from Chinese; country-dwellers from city-dwellers; and on and on. Some people truly want their voices to be heard, while others simply want to disappear. Some want to figure it out themselves, while others desperately want help. Some want to lead, while others want to follow.
When we ask the question, “How would I want to be treated?” we don’t have to answer it as though everyone is our clone. That’s the quick way of figuring out what to do, and it’s better than nothing. But the more robust way involves finding out more about the person and trying to do what they themselves would appreciate, even if it’s not something we ourselves would be thankful for.
After all, that’s how we would like others to treat us, isn’t it?
There are some things that all people appreciate receiving. Honesty, mercy, charity, and justice are among them. But treating others like real people with legitimate concerns rather than merely irrelevant extras on the set of life—in other words, treating them how we want to be treated—will automatically lead to giving them honesty, mercy, charity, and justice.
This answers the question of how to earn respect. Doing for other people as we would have them do for us is the surest way of gaining their respect. The most powerful way to do this is to get to know those whose respect you’d like to have and behave toward them in ways that they will be thankful for.