“You’re disrespecting me,” you tell a friend or co-worker. A heaping measure of self-control may keep you from screaming the phrase, but you do say it clearly and forcefully. You want respect, you want it to be visible, you want it from everyone, and you want it all the time. You think respect and its benefits should be yours simply because of who you are so you say, “You’re disrespecting me.” What do you mean by that?
What it means to say, “You’re disrespecting me” may not be what you think it means. As humans, we have always wanted respect, but we did not talk about it. We did not demand it and accuse others of not distributing it as we think they should. We did not trade obvious disrespect for seeming disrespect. Only in the last 20 to 30 years have humans been caught up in insisting that others deliver respect.
The problem is that an amazing number of us are unable to define respect. As a result, we are unable to define disrespect. Put the two together, and we are at a loss to state what it means to say, “You’re disrespecting me.” That makes for a thorny problem.
The problem becomes even thornier when we deal with young people. Can a 3-8-year-old child understand what it means to say, “You’re disrespecting me” when that child cannot give the most simple definition of respect? If you asked a room full of 15-19-year-old students to write a meaningful definition of respect, would every one of them hand in an intelligent answer?
The next time you find yourself using the phrase, or overhear someone else using the phrase, ask yourself what it means. Set aside time to read and study until you are satisfied that you have a good grasp of the phrase in its entirety.
Accusations and Evasive Crutches
Once you understand what it means to say, “You’re disrespecting me”, you may stop using the phrase. You may come to see that it is, after all, an accusation or an evasive crutch.
- Accusation: When you use this phrase, you accuse another person of not recognizing how valuable you are. You allege that he or she knows full well that you are worthy of high regard, but is purposefully withholding that high regard from you. Is that really true?*
Suppose you took that accusation into court. You would be responsible to prove your case. What proof could you offer the judge that you really are worthy of high regard from the other person? What proof would you have that the other person knows you are worthy of high regard? Would you be able to offer proof that the other person is purposefully withholding the high regard to which you are entitled? It is possible that the judge would decide against you because you lack such proof.
Since your value or worth is not stamped on your forehead, or stated on a price tag hanging from your ear, you will find it difficult to back up an accusation that someone has not paid you the proper price.
- Evasive Crutch: “You’re disrespecting me” becomes an evasive crutch to many people. It becomes an easy way to avoid thinking through the issue and facing the real problem. Angry with a broken situation or relationship, you rest that anger on “disrespect” rather than work to mend the break.
Were you to focus on the specific problem, you would have to share the responsibility for the break. You would have to control your emotional reaction, choosing instead to interact positively with the person who offended you.
A neighbor recently swore repeatedly in my presence. That sounded like disrespect to me, and I could have said, “You’re disrespecting me!” I didn’t, though. I know that he always uses that kind of language with his friends. He saw my discomfort, said, “Parson my French,” but proceeded to repeat the words. I know from his usual actions that he has respect for my husband and me, so I did not accuse him of disrespect. Rather, I stated quietly that such words make me feel offended. I told him that the insertion of “Pardon my French” showed that he knew he should not use that language with me. Then I asked him please to stop doing it. He apologized, and we mended the relational break.
Can you use the same solution? Certainly. When you are tempted to snap the words, “You’re disrespecting me,” stop and think. Lay aside your emotions and exercise self-control to focus on the specifics of what actually happened.
Suppose your principal just told you she would handle the curriculum order because it was too complicated for you to handle. Don’t play the disrespect card. Stop and think about what she might mean. Then say something specific such as, “When you say it’s too complicated for me to handle, I feel as though you think I’m not as educated as I should be. Can you please explain what you meant?”
Or picture your spouse making crude jokes about you in front of your parents. Keep that disrespect card in your pocket and deal in specifics. “Honey, Dad and Mom are from a generation with different values, so when you make crude jokes about me, they feel uncomfortable.” Go on to suggest a way you can work together to change the situation.
What it means to say, “You’re disrespecting me” is probably nothing in a majority of cases. It is simply a hasty, emotional response to the general situation. Exercise your self-control and put away the disrespect card or, better yet, put it through a shredder – twice!
Refuse to read “disrespect” into things people say to you, and you may get a surprise. You just might find yourself gaining more respect.
* Respect is due in some cases by merit of the position a person holds, regardless of the perceived value of that person. We respect the position, and act accordingly. Two examples are the respect due the position of a parent and the respect due a position of authority such as a teacher holds. A parent or teacher can effectively (i.e. quietly) say, “You’re disrespecting me” when trying to train a young person in moral values.