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Respect: What Does It Really Mean?

What is respect? It may be easy to recognize the absence of respect. Despite this, it’s not nearly so easy to define and show respect in our daily interactions. By definition, respect means to demonstrate “high regard” for or special attention to something or someone. However, this definition alone does not tell us what that ‘something’ is or how it is done.

The Requirements of Respect

The requirements for respect must be considered from both a social and individual perspective. We learn the basic social guidelines for respect as children. The parental advice to play nice, share with others, say please, thank you, and you’re welcome, lay the foundation for respectful relationships. These basics, combined with community consensus about respectful behavior, define standards to guide our interactions.

Respect is individually defined for each person through personal experience.

Our personal definitions of respect are influenced by our personality, emotions, preferences, and cultural context. These elements may be difficult to define in the clearest and most objective terms. People with and without disabilities may have difficulty describing and explaining personal criteria for respect. We often learn about these things over time through relationships with people. Respect requires working to understand each person’s individual expectations for respect as we get to know people and build shared experiences.

Effective Tools For Respect

When understanding how other people see and interpret the world around them, dialogue is our most effective tool. We find this to be especially true in the use of CQL’s internationally recognized tool, the Personal Outcome Measures®.

The active exchange of ideas and opinions provides insight into the most important variables that define individual expectations for respect. To make this process work, we need to avoid judging people and actions by our personal standards of conduct and open up to learning about the world from another’s perspective.

It is a challenge to address respect in the service process. Respect is reflected in every aspect of service processes and relationships – environments, interactions, supports, and resources. Everything from the arrangement of furniture, to the selection of support activities, to the allocation of staff and resources can reflect the importance we assign to people receiving services. In addition, we must balance professional priorities with individual needs and requirements in a way that communicates maximum respect for people. This demands constant reflection on the meaning our actions convey.

The Demonstration of Respect

The demonstration of true individual respect cannot be accomplished without investment of self and some personal risk. Respect is something we must regularly practice. However, we rarely master it. It is a product of our ability to relate to others in ways that consider their priorities important. Furthermore, mistakes in this process are often our best learning tool.

Our continued attention to each person is essential to supporting an atmosphere of respect. We need to commit ourselves to reflecting the following beliefs in our daily interactions. These can help each of us get better at demonstrating the respect each person deserves.

Beliefs That Reflect Respect

  • Everything we do, say, and provide to others makes a statement about our regard for them.
  • Respectful interactions do not draw undue or negative attention to a person’s difference or disability.
  • Demonstrating concern and support for individual difference sets the stage for communicating our respect for others.