Showing respect versus respecting someone

Respect. Do we demand it as our due? Do we have to show it to people who don’t deserve it? In a world where disrespectfulness is often touted as authenticity and honesty, it can be confusing for Christ-followers to suss out the appropriate response.

Recently, the conversation came up and I asked “What would Jesus do?”

In hindsight, I see that came across as flippant. Further in the conversation I was able to explain what I meant by inserting that question. As I listened, it became clear that the other person wasn’t touting the right to be disrespectful.

Ouch. This incident reminded me that conversation requires good listening skills. And in order to listen well, we have to be willing to lay pre-conceived notions aside.

I wish I could say that’s becoming easier as I age. After all, I’m a certified writing coach and was trained to listen deeply and ask questions motivated by curiosity rather than judgment.

Alas, I’m only human.

Back to the question: “What would Jesus do?” Jesus has plenty to say about both showing respect and feeling respect for someone.

Let’s face it, there are times when we don’t feel someone deserves respect. Maybe they’re demeaning us. Perhaps their not carrying their weight of responsibility on the job. Or they could be a leader who puffs out the chest demanding others bow and scrape (thinking of Haman from Esther’s story here).

But Jesus tells us who we must respect.

Honestly? We’ve had a number of presidents in the United States over the past three decades that I didn’t admire. I didn’t agree with their policies. Or I thought they were shady and dishonest. Or their demeanor gave every American a bad rap.

Fortunately, I didn’t meet any of these men. If I had, I would have addressed them as “Mr. President.” I would have been considerate. And if by chance they asked for my opinion on their leadership style or politics, I would have couched my response in a friendly, non-accusatory manner.

Because no matter how I “felt” about them, those men held a position worthy of honor.
I wouldn’t respect them, perhaps, but I would show them the respect due one holding the office of President of the United States.

It might be harder to be respectful to someone we consider an equal. After all, if they’re unkind to us, surely we don’t have to suffer through it with a smile.

Or maybe we do.

And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other

Luke 6:29a KJV

I’ve always been reticent to quote this scripture. I don’t want to turn the other cheek. Why should I have to take more abuse?

As my husband pointed out when we discussed my misstep in communication, I can walk away. I don’t have to stand for abuse. And if it’s someone in authority doing the abusing, they have a superior. I should report their behavior.

But if they are my supervisor, I can’t unload disrespectful words and behaviors on them. That would give them ammunition to fire me.

Or if it was the case of student and teacher, they would have the right to kick me out of class, send me to detention, and possibly angle for a suspension.

The point I finally made in my mishandled conversation was that if we repay poor behavior with disrespect, we’ve lost our high ground. No matter what other people do, we need to act according to the teaching of scripture.

Will it be easy? Nope. But it will be right.

Even if the person doesn’t earn our respect or deserve respectful treatment, our testimony as a believer in Jesus demands we act better.

So the next time someone in a position that requires respect acts in a manner that isn’t worthy of respect, take a deep breath and treat them as you would want to be treated.

Let go of the idea that they have to earn your respect. Don’t make your response about them at all. Make it about being like Jesus.

It’s always right to show respect.

Do you find it difficult to show respect to people who haven’t earned it? What scripture can we memorize to help us overcome this struggle?

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