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8. The Death of DEI
  • Writer's pictureAntonio Da Veiga Rocha

‘Treating Each Other With Respect’ May Not Be Enough!

In conversation with my 11-year-old-son the other day, I asked him about the dynamics of his class, if they had improved after a somewhat intense previous year. He mentioned that they started the year being told to respect each other. They were ‘reminded’ that respect is the principal action everyone in the school needs to follow, and that they would be exemplary students if they always respect each other. I was happy to hear this, until I asked my son what actions were being taken to implement such principality. He looked at me dumbfounded. I clarified, what is the school doing to educate your class on what respect is and how it functions? He looked up in thought and said, well, they just say that treating each other with respect is important and that we should be doing it all the time.

That exchange with my son brought me to think of how often we hear the call for respect with no substantial breakdown of what it means, even less so, how we actually go about practicing it. I thought about how perfectly placed my son and his colleagues were/are for such lessons, real, thorough explorations, and investigations, on the meaning of the word and its practice. As social groups we presume that such definitions and actions are known to all, especially to the young, and that all that is needed from time to time is a reminder.

Respect Defined

In my years of purposeful social involvement I have come to understand that respect is often confused with manners, those we’ve grown up attending to in our shared social spaces. Although manners belong inside the practices of respect, they are two different things.

Here at KinSite our working definition of respect is the attention given to another’s space through a continuous practice of understanding the inherent and chosen differences that that individual or group possesses, and the right they hold as members of shared communal spaces to differentiate themselves from others and practice those differences with no intentional harm to those others.

In our workshops we often expound on what it means to ‘understand someone’s space’ and how individuals have the right to always be considered (rather than dismissed) through the choices they practice in the space/s they occupy.

Now, there is much to unpack with such a definition, such as what is meant by ‘consideration’ and ‘attention’, and ‘the right…to differentiate’. This is why workshops and presentation are important, and why, in reality, definitions need further definitions. But, in going back to my son’s classroom and the call to ‘respect each other’, the question is: what are they to appreciate about the practice of respect if the ask doesn’t hold multi-level understandings about an individual’s space and its functions, about inherent and choice driven differences, and the negotiations that are inborn in such choices and practices?

The Need for Differentiations: Tolerance, Manners, Respect

I mentioned before that the practice we often find blanketing the call for respect is one of manners. Be kind and friendly to the Other, offer a seat, say please and thank you, make way, don’t call someone names, don’t make them feel uncomfortable. All such markers are important, but they are not the totality of respect.

...on Tolerance

There was a time when many such actions fell under the term Tolerance. Most shared work or learning spaces don’t use this word any more in their work policies, mandates, regulations, etc. yet, it was once thought to be the answer to workplace conflicts. We have now understood it to be antiquated and profoundly simplistic in consideration and action; bluntly, it was simply a lazy way of going about practicing respect. Why? Because the practice of Tolerance required minimal effort on the part of the individual. They were constantly reminded about the innate transiency of most encounters, 'you need only deal with that person a few minutes a day,' as such, they were left to think that most encounters were nothing to consider on any deeper levels. And so we reverted (and revert to) to the systems of Manners.

...back to Manners.

I can remember when I was young being told to respect my grandmother for example, by kissing her on the cheek. Growing up those two terms were always linked, Manners and Respect, so much so that they became resonantly connected with one another. For many of us such early lessons stay as profound understandings of what Respect is. One can often be said to have respect if they hold ‘good’ manners. But, if we view respect from the definition mentioned earlier, we can see that being well mannered, just isn’t enough. We can initiate respect with positive and healthy manners, but this is only one pillar in the multi-pillar edifice that is Respect.

Respect is a Process

In one of its definitions of the word Process Merriam-Webster defines it as ‘a series of actions or operations conducing to an end’. So, Process is 1: a series, 2: requires actions, and 3: has an objective. Respect then is a process. It requires a series of actions with the intent to reach a goal. In my son’s classroom they set a goal, to have a better year than the previous year, but they were missing two components, continuance (series), and actions. I have since started working with the classroom, conducting a series of mini presentation on how we view respect here at KinSite and how to put it into practice. We have agreed on some objectives and are putting words to actions. The most important component I have shared with them is that Respect is a process that promotes understanding of others, in-turn, better understanding of you. We should endear ourselves to the process of respect and seek to achieve its biggest lesson, which is reaching our highest levels of interpersonal understanding.


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