From the Roadmap series
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Everyone wants to be shown respect. Most of us were taught as children to respect others. Respect is an important part of almost every belief system in the world. But how do you know if you truly respect others? How can you be sure you are expressing that respect sufficiently through your words and actions?
As Christians, we respect our fellow man for one simple, undeniable reason: Every person is a creation of God, and He loves each and every person just as He loves you and me. It is our Christian duty to show unconditional love and acceptance to everyone we come in contact with.
We want to build fruitful relationships with people, but how can we achieve that if we don’t respect them? Even if you firmly believe in the principle of respect, the application of it is often lacking in our day-to-day encounters. What we need to think about is how respect—or the lack of it—affects our everyday lives, our subconscious and deliberate thoughts, and our actions toward others. Is the respect we have for others manifested in the way we live and interact with them, or is it simply one of those ideals which we know is right and good but which we put little emphasis on actually practicing? If respect is a part of us, it will show in our actions and in our conversations.
Obviously, having respect for others is crucial to our success as missionaries and witnesses. Those we minister to must feel comfortable with us before they will be willing to open their hearts and lives to us and to the message of God’s Word. The people we interact with and witness to need to feel accepted. They need to feel safe with us. They need to know that we love and respect them, and that we won’t criticize them, belittle them or their culture or beliefs, mock them behind their backs, or gossip about them. Respect is very much a part of love, love that is manifested in understanding, acceptance, tolerance, and open-mindedness.
A fundamental concept is to realize that deep inside, everyone has the same needs.
From pretty young shop girls and waitresses and secretaries to elderly widows and rich old dowagers; from handsome young clerks, bookkeepers, technicians, white-collar workers and engineers to wealthy businessmen, retired widowers, single shopkeepers and the bachelor farmers, [they’re] all the same. They’re all longing for love of all kinds, but especially for a love they [have] never known before—true love, sincere love, genuine love, the truly great love of their life, the love of all loves, who alone can satisfy that deepest yearning of every human soul for total love and complete understanding.
He’s the power and life of the universe that some people call God but that the Bible calls love, for “God is love.”
He’s pictured in His Son Christ Jesus, a man who loved everybody, even the poorest and the worst of all. He is the lover of all lovers, who came for love and lived in love, and died for love that we might live and love forever!—David Brandt Berg
One definition of the word respect is “an attitude of deference, admiration, or esteem; polite or kind regard; consideration for people’s feelings; to show consideration for; to treat courteously or kindly.” The Bible instructs, “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves.”1 Respect goes right along with humility, because we can’t esteem others as they should be esteemed if our pride or self-importance is getting in the way.
To consider how our humility and perception of ourselves affects how we view others and how that view is manifested in our speech and actions, we could ask ourselves a few questions, such as:
—What do I feel about ethnic groups, cultures, or nationalities that are different from mine? (Especially consider your reactions or attitudes if those individuals display habits, customs, or traits you happen to dislike or find distasteful.)
—Am I tolerant or am I judgmental toward those who choose lifestyles that are different from mine?
—Do I feel that I’m better, even just a little bit better, than those who subscribe to a different church, religion, or belief system?
—Have I allowed bigotry, prejudice, or intolerance to inadvertently become a part of my thoughts or my speech, even through casual humor?
—Do I make false assumptions or develop unfounded preconceived ideas about people based on their race, religion, culture, background, education, physical appearance, or social standing?
Certainly, we have all been guilty of one or more of these attitudes. For each of us, the specific ways in which we might lack respect for others are different. It could show itself in reference to persons, groups, religions, cultures, or lifestyle choices that are different from our own, that for some reason or another we have come to strong negative personal conclusions about, often without truly even knowing the people or situations firsthand.
Maybe it’s a mindset handed down to us from a sector of our society or from our upbringing. Maybe it’s an opinion of a role model or close friend that we’ve adopted, without having been open to another perspective. Or maybe we have had experiences that have tainted our point of view, so we feel justified in having taken the unconscious action of lumping all of a certain sector of society together and judging all of them according to that negative memory.
What a wonderful world it could be if we were all color-blind and race-unconscious, where the only thing we saw when we looked on a person of another background was love. … Even when fear, prejudice, and hatred have been ingrained for years, the wonderful love of God can wash it all away! Once you personally know that God loves and forgives you, it becomes much easier to love and forgive others. You can then “get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, along with every form of malice, and be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”2—The Color of Love
Our tolerance of others, which is another way of showing respect and being humble, is often tested when people treat us with a lack of respect. Or perhaps you’ve felt mistreated, put down, or hurt by someone, and thus feel tempted to act in a less than respectful, dignified, or loving way toward that person. This happens to everyone from time to time, no matter what your background, heritage, or personal circumstances. But every one of us has the freedom to choose how we’ll respond to the way people treat us, even if their treatment of us doesn’t seem fair or right.
Here’s an account that provides some food for thought.
Booker T. Washington struggled against deep-seated white prejudice to establish his Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. One day, as he passed the mansion of a wealthy woman to whom he was just another black, he heard her call out, “Come here, boy. I need some wood chopped.”
Without a word, Washington peeled off his jacket, picked up the ax, and went to work, not only cutting a pile of wood but carrying it into the house.
He had scarcely left when a servant said, “That was Professor Washington, Ma’am.” Abashed, the woman went to the institute to apologize.
Replied the educator: “There’s no need for apology, madam. I’m delighted to do favors for my friends.” The woman became one of Tuskegee’s warmest and most generous supporters.—Clarence W. Hall3
Consider these ground rules regarding respect:
1. It’s vital. Regardless of where our assumptions originated, we need to recognize that failing to show respect to each and every human being will sabotage our personal happiness and success. It will distance us from friends and co-workers, keep us from new positive learning experiences, and hinder our emotional, social, and spiritual growth. Whether we are hoping to launch a mission work on a foreign field, excel in a charitable work, or progress in studies or business, we need the qualities of tolerance, generosity, acceptance, humility, and respect for others.
2. You can’t fake respect. We need to be sincere. People can sense sincerity or the lack of it. We can’t get by with being shallow and two-faced in our interactions with others. If we try to be nice on the outside while thinking negative, critical thoughts about someone on the inside, we will come across as phony.
3. You can change. Although a lack of respect for others is a common character flaw, it can be overcome. We will be well on our way to improving in this area when we recognize that condescending, disrespectful attitudes are not like Jesus, and will not help us to grow into the accepting, caring people we were created to be. We were put on this earth to love, and every step of progress we make in this area is a step toward greater happiness and fulfillment.
Six steps to the solution
How do we recognize and discard wrong attitudes that hinder our free expression of respect to all people God has created? Here are six steps to consider.
Step 1) Realize that we could be wrong about some of our attitudes and the ways we think, feel, speak, or act.
Step 2) Reflect on our lives and pinpoint the precise gaps in how we demonstrate respect toward others.
Step 3) Ask the Lord to help us make the changes in our personality that will help us express greater respect for those we come in contact with. Reflect on the amazing fact that God loves every single person completely, perfectly, and unconditionally, no less than He loves us.
Step 4) Watch movies or documentaries that broaden our mind and give us understanding and empathy, and in turn respect, for other peoples, nations, religions, cultures, and creeds.
Step 5) Ask questions of an elderly acquaintance or family member, and listen and learn.
Step 6) Listen carefully to people who are different. Don’t contradict or correct where you think they’re off. Shut down your verbal patterns for this one experiment. Just listen.
Once we make the effort to get to know others—by finding out their heartaches, challenges, troubles, and joys, and empathizing with them by learning what makes them tick and appreciating them—we’ll discover a beautiful place, a higher ground where we won’t stoop to generalities, negative stereotypes, or insulting remarks.
In seventeenth-century France, a humanist scholar by the name of Muretus was an ailing fugitive. When he presented himself to the medical doctors, he was dressed in the rags of a pauper. The doctors discussed his case in Latin, thinking he would not be able to understand them. “Faciamus experimentum in anima vili,” one said, which means, “Let us try an experiment with this worthless creature.”
Imagine their shock when this pauper replied, also in Latin, “Vilem animam appellas pro qua Christus non dedignatus est mori?” “Will you call worthless one for whom Christ did not disdain to die?”4—From storiesforpreaching.com
Empathy involves understanding another’s heart, mind, and spirit—including their motives, backgrounds, and feelings. The more empathy we have for others, the more we come to appreciate and reverence who they are.—Stephen R. Covey
Roadmap was a video series created by TFI for young adults. Originally published in 2010. Adapted and republished on Anchor November 2017. Read by Simon Peterson.
1 Philippians 2:3 KJV.
2 Ephesians 4:31–32 NIV.
3 Booker T. Washington (1856–1915) was an educator, author, and the dominant leader of America’s African-American community.
4 Charles Birch, Regaining Compassion (University of NSW Press, 1993).