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Respect: What Does It Really Mean?

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

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 directives to play nice, share with others, say please, thank you, and you’re welcome, lay the foundation for respectful interactions with others in life. These basics combined with community consensus about respectful behavior define standards to guide our interactions with others.

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. Each of these elements may be difficult to define in the clearest and most objective terms. Even people without disabilities have difficulty describing and explaining personal criteria for respect tied to these variables. We often learn about these things over time through relationships with people. Respect requires struggling to understand each person’s individual expectations for respect as we get to know them and build shared experiences over time.

When seeking to understand how other people see and interpret the world around them, dialogue is our most effective tool. We find this to be especially true in our 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 selection and arrangement of furniture and the selection of support activities, to the allocation of staff and resources can reflect the importance we assign to people receiving services and their needs. Balancing professional priorities with individual needs and requirements in a way that communicates maximum respect for people demands constant reflection on the meaning our actions convey.

The demonstration of true individual respect cannot be accomplished without investment of self and some personal risk. Respect is something we must regularly practice and rarely master. It is a product of our ability to relate to others in ways that consider their priorities important – and mistakes in this process are often our best learning tool. Our continued attention to each person is essential to building a foundation of experience that supports an atmosphere of respect. Committing ourselves to reflecting the following beliefs in our daily interactions can help each of us get better at demonstrating the respect each person deserves.

  • 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.