The Paradox of Respect: A Personal Insight

My wife and I enjoy watching the genre of television programs in which various consultants go in and try to save failing businesses.  Gordon Ramsay may have invented the basic model with his Kitchen Nightmares.  It has been replicated with shows about restaurants, hotels, bars, car lots, salons, and other businesses.

If you watch the programs, one thing becomes clear immediately.  The worst workers in virtually any business are the people who are obsessed with the question of whether they are being disrespected.

I happen to be in a good position to deliver this news, because exactly this issue came up in one of my first professional positions.  Once, I sat (as a very junior person) in a high level meeting and casually doodled on my copy of the meeting agenda.  The notes I was making illustrated my disdain for the process we were going through.  One of my superiors was in the meeting and later expressed his disapproval of what I’d been doing.  He had seen what I was writing.

My reaction?  Contrition?  Personal re-examination?  A desire to make things better?  None of the above.  Instead, I became so angry with this man with whom I worked that I was unable to enter the building the following morning.  I was ready to come to blows because I had convinced myself that he had disrespected me.  What business was it of his what I wrote on a piece of paper, anyway?  Today, at age 42 it is easy to see how wrong I was.  But back then, I was blind.  It shouldn’t surprise anyone that it took me several years to learn some of the important lessons required to become a more successful person.

Instead of struggling through the problems that come from assuming you deserve boundless respect when you have done little to earn it, consider letting someone else’s mistakes (like mine) be a placeholder for your own.  If you do good work and conduct yourself in a way that earns respect from others, you will receive it.  Paradoxically, if you run around kicking against the goads and carrying on about the respect you deserve, you will receive far less of it and will likely be thought a fool.

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4 thoughts on “The Paradox of Respect: A Personal Insight

  1. Well, to some degree, shouldn’t your notes have been your own? I personally would not have mentioned it to you because it would have let you know I was invading your privacy by reading your notes. I think in that respect you had some right to be upset.

  2. It’s a separate issue apart from your lack of respect, but a wrong action led to the discovery of a wrong attitude. Not the best moral ground.

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