Podcast 017 - RESPECT

This is Debbie Pokornik host of Vibrant, Powerful Moms a podcast focused on helping you remember who you really are, so you can realign with that vibrant energy while still enjoying a human experience. I know that sounds kind of mystic (woo woo is the term many would use), but if you've been tuning in to my podcasts then you know it is… but it's not.

You see, my passion in this lifetime is to help you to awaken to things that have been buried, downplayed, excluded and even made to look 'other-worldly' and by doing so help you reclaim the life you have come here to experience. What's important, however, is that I do this in a way that is both practical and realistic. If you can't use what you awaken in your regular life, then it's not going to stick or make any real difference.

My company is Empowering NRG – Natural, Realistic Guidance meant to empower.

So, for today's topic I feel guided to talk about something very relevant to human relationships. A word that is important to all of us yet shrouded in mystery – it has no clear and easy definition. This is a concept that we use on a regular basis with our kids and expect them to understand and abide by when many adults don't even really understand it. Believe it or not this notion is Respect!

You cannot force respect – it must be earned and supported by your behaviours. Sometimes it is earned by credentials, community status or reputation – in other words you might respect someone that you've never met, but if you meet them and they do things to make you feel disrespected your respect for them will drop.

For example, before I met my doctor, I respected him. He works in a doctor's office and has MD after his name. To me, he has earned the right to be called a doctor and I respect that about him. If I go in to see him and he doesn't listen to me, or discounts the symptoms I'm sharing (tells me they're all in my head) my respect for him will drop. If he continues this way, I will stop respecting him completely and likely find a new doctor. Just of the record – I really respect and like my doctor.

People listen to you, ask for your advice (and take it seriously) and treat you appropriately when they respect you. Let's take that idea one step further… people (your kids) will do as you ask for one of three reasons:

  • They respect you
  • They fear you or your ability to enforce a consequence
  • They don't care one way or the other (i.e. someone asks you to move to a different chair, you don't care where you sit so you move).


Let's pause here and do a little exercise. Think about someone you really respect (past or present) – why do you respect them? How did they earn your respect? What does it mean to you if you disappoint them? What lengths would you go to avoid letting them down?

Have you ever had someone your really respected do something to lose your respect? If yes, how did your attitude towards them change once this happened? Do you treat them differently?

Respect is a critical component for any relationship. Trust and respect are strongly connected and when given mutually encourage you to invest in that relationship. So when you did the exercise above, you likely discovered (probably already knew) that when you respect someone you will go to great lengths not to disappoint them, but once that respect is gone – you might even enjoy letting them down.

So why is this important?

This is important for many reasons:

  • If we want our future generations to work with us we must work to earn and/or keep their respect
  • To do this, we must understand how to model respect, talk about respect and be mutually respectful. We also need clear boundaries which we clearly and consistently enforce.
  • Self-respect (how you feel about and look after yourself) is interwoven with creating a healthy group environment, whether it be a family, school, team, workplace, country…
  • Belonging to a healthy group environment helps you develop positive self-respect. Catch 22… belonging to a group that is based on mutual respect helps your self-respect grow. Your self-respect provides the basis for mutual respect to grow out of…. Which comes first the chicken or the egg? It's hard to say.
  • To live a vibrant, powerful life you need to tune into what respect means to you and the people around you.

Exercise Take 2

Let's go back to the exercise we did a few moments ago – thinking about the person you really respect, and specifically the question why do you respect them? Take a moment (you might need to push pause on the podcast) and flesh out your answer.

You'll likely notice your answer goes much deeper than, "he doesn't interrupt me." In fact it will go to a primary value…like, "He listens to me and makes me feel like my opinions count, even when he disagrees with them." As you flesh it out further you'll find that what it really translates into is something like: he treats me in a way that makes me feel worthy as a person.

Respect is a feeling that arises by how you are treated rather than an automatic response to certain behaviours. In this way respect is a subjective experience, based on your values and is hugely influenced by your upbringing, your self-worth, your understanding of ego, your stress level, your current emotional state and the importance of your relationship with that person.

It is a very complex and dynamic topic – meaning it is not easy to teach and it has a life of its own – it changes, flexes and grows or dissolves with the relationship.

It's sort of like the difference between teaching someone a dance step versus teaching them to meditate. You can see if a dance step is done properly – even when it's a very complex step.

Meditation, on the other hand, is an internal affair. If you close your eyes, relax your shoulders and breathe deeply – you look like you've got it. Of course if you start snoring people will catch on that you've gone a little deep . All joking aside, you can also be sitting there with your eyes closed, looking relaxed when in your mind you are rehashing the fight you had with your partner that morning, or imagining how you're going to get even with your colleague who embarrassed you in front of your boss…AND nobody can tell the difference.

Respect is like this… It's confusing, it's messy, it's individual and it cannot be controlled, forced or easily fixed once broken.

Teaching Respect…

1. Start with self-awareness Identify your values…what things are truly important to you, why are they important and how can you model and enforce them? For example: Privacy, freedom, honesty, commitment, integrity, trust, loyalty...

2. Share this with the relevant people

a) Figure out what it means to you in a way that will help others understand it; Being honest, clear communication, having my back, believing in me (benefit of the doubt), doing what you say you will do (commitment)… allow for discussions around difference of opinion I used to tell my kids – I need you to be honest with me. I will always have your back, but I need to be sure that I know the whole story when I'm backing you up. So, tell me the truth – always and I promise to take that into account when dealing out a consequence. I even told them to remind me they told the truth if it appeared I had forgotten. They did, and on those occasions I had to put my ego aside and give them a lighter sentence. This wasn't easy and there was a time in the teen years when I actually felt uncomfortable with how honest and open they were, but when I look back now it made things a lot easier as a parent and I love the open communication I enjoy with my kids to this day.

b) Reinforce what you are teaching with clear (non offensive) communication. In other words, find and use those teachable moments; "When you roll your eyes while I'm talking I feel disrespected because it feels like you don't think I have anything important to say. Is this your intention?" "I feel disrespected when I'm question about where I've been and who I've been with. Have I done something to make you feel like you can't trust me?" You can also build comments of appreciation around feeling respected to help other's understand how their actions made you feel. "Thanks for respecting my wishes about not taking your bike out until I came home. I know it was hard to listen and I want you to know I appreciate it."

3. Practice mutual respect Mutual respect is the key to building a strong, satisfying relationship. This is where the idea treat others like you would like to be treated is rooted and is what builds a strong foundation for future interactions. You'll need an open mind and will likely have to tell your ego to 'sit' often. You'll also need to practice giving genuine apologies since you are human and will mess up. With time you will start to feel the strength building in your relationship and when your child reaches the teen stage you'll be super thankful you practiced this skill a lot in the years before.

In a nutshell mutual respect is about:

  • Finding out what feels respectful (or disrespectful) to the other person and honouring that
  • Recognizing that everyone has a right to be treated respectfully (no matter their age)
  • Seeking first to understand before being understood (S. Covey)
  • Communicating clearly and positively with others
  • Rewarding respectful behaviour in some way
  • Being willing to apologize and maybe even eat your words on occasion

As mentioned earlier my kids were raised to believe honesty was highly valued in our family. When my oldest was in high school, I mentioned that he was sent home one day for smoking pot on his spare. In that case, him and his friends when to a nearby house, smoked a joint, hung out, ate lunch and eventually returned to school quite clear eyed. Someone else told on the group, so when they returned to school they were hauled in the office one at a time and questioned.

When my son was called in they told him he hadn't been identified, but since he normally hung out with the group they would give him a chance to tell the truth and if he was honest things would go much better for him than if he lied and later got caught. In our house, this meant something…but at school it didn't.

My son admitted to being with the group and was suspended with the rest of them. He even went so far as to ask them what would have happened differently if he had lied and was told to, "Not get smart – if you had lied we would no longer trust you!" Sadly, after this happened, they no longer trusted my son (or any of the kids in the group) and in his mind had broken their word.

They lost my son's respect and with it any desire to continue going to school. He still went and graduated – I ended up taking him out of French Immersion (not just because of that) and moving him to English for Grade 12. It was a valuable lesson and an important part of his journey, but not an easy one for a mother to watch.

The roots of respect

Respect and empathy go hand in hand, so when it comes to teaching kids respect at an early age you want to awaken them to the concept of empathy. Some kids are naturally empathetic (those are the ones that mourn for days after watching a show like Bambi), but others will have to be taught it.

This starts with helping your child connect with their own feelings (which are never wrong, just in need of recognition).

"I can tell by your fists that you are angry right now…, do you need a moment to cool down?" (do you need to go for a walk in the fresh air; do you need some time alone; should we run outside and yell it out?) Avoid: "Don't be angry, it was just an accident." Or "Why are you angry, she didn't mean it?" "I know you're disappointed Grandpa isn't coming over, do you need a hug?" (I'm disappointed too; maybe we can play cars for a little bit to get our mind off it) Empathy becomes part of their toolbox by asking them to put themselves in someone else's shoes often… "I think she's mad you took her toy…what do you think?" "How would you feel if someone wrote all over your drawing?" "How do you think that made him feel?" "I don't think I'd want to play with you if you treated me that way – I might even be afraid you'll hurt me again." You can also talk about characters in shows, books or even situations you're witnessing (other kids at a restaurant)…"Wow, he sounds pretty angry - How do you think he's feeling right now?"

Things to watch out for…

  • You can't force a person to respect you so get rid of any mixed up beliefs you might have about respecting people just because they are older than you. AVOID: "Respect your elders!" "You will show me respect because I am your mother!" "Mr. Wilson is old and deserves your respect."
  • Watch out for confusing contradictions; "You will do as I say, not as I do!" "Don't you dare speak to me in that tone of voice!"
  • Make sure your values reflect what you truly believe. If you tell lies, sneak around, share your child's secrets with others, etc., then honesty, commitment and loyalty are probably not what you value. To truly earn and share respect you MUST start by being honest with yourself.
  • We do not control how other people feel, I don't want you to think that teaching respect is a way to manipulate others into taking responsibility for your feelings. It is about clearly communicating how different things make you feel, which helps people understand you and decide if what you are asking is a fair request or not.

Putting it all together

In summary, fostering respect in a relationship requires a clear understanding of what feels respectful to you and why (self-awareness); excellent communication skills so you can share this information with others (setting boundaries), a willingness to find out what feels respectful to the other person and to treat them accordingly or clearly explain why you can't (mutual respect)

So take a moment and think about how you are teaching respect to your kids or building respect in your other relationships. The less we assume when it comes to respect and the more clearly we communicate the easier it will be for everyone involved.

With much respect for you and the journey you are on… This is Debbie Pokornik, wishing you a vibrant and powerful day.

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