Earning respect


By Rev. Fr. Tristan Jasper D. Laforteza

Is it more important to be feared than respected? By now, you have probably finished watching the last season of Game of Thrones 1. It is quite easy to see why this popular TV show has managed to capture the hearts of audiences. It has a little bit of everything; drama, love story, action, fantasy, mystery, and intrigue. One of the most beloved characters in the series is Daenerys Stormborn Targayen.

Fans have watched her character grow from a frightened little girl into a fierce and confident ruler, then into an ambitious and vengeful queen. While some fans expressed their surprise and dismay over her character arc, there were a lot of signs that Daenerys was heading towards her own ultimate destruction. At the very start, the people ‘respect’ her out of fear and reverence to her dragons. Her way of ruling is also born out of fear – she was afraid that the people will hurt and leave her eventually. As a result, she unwittingly became the Mad Queen which led to her demise.

Daenerys’ approach to leadership was probably inspired by the famous political treatise, The Prince, written by Niccoló Machiavelli. In his work2, Machiavelli stressed that it is better to be feared than to be liked/respected. He said respect only works if the relationship with others is based on a strong sense of obligation, gratitude, or debt, all of which can be broken at any given time whereas fear is a good motivator for people to keep doing what you expected them to do.

Just like Daenerys, using fear instead of earning people’s respect through sincere actions, can have dire consequences. Respect is not only given to persons in authority or to those who are older than we are. As the old saying goes, respect begets respect. Even at a young age, you can earn respect both from your peers and elders, by giving them the same amount of respect that you wanted them to give you.

Here’s some of the basic things you can do to help earn respect.

Famous American writer and lecturer Dale Carnegie once said that there is a simple way to make a good first impression: smile. In his book3, Carnegie noted that people who smile tend to manage, teach, and influence people more effectively than those that do not.

Carnegie pointed out, “Actions speak louder than words, and a smile says, ‘I like you. You make me happy. I am glad to see you’…An insincere grin? No. That doesn’t fool anybody.

We know it’s mechanical and we resent it. I am talking about a real smile, a heartwarming smile, a smile that comes from within, the kind of smile that will bring a good price in the marketplace.”

What Carnegie meant was that smiling sincerely would make anyone seem likeable and friendly, that it’ll surely open doors for new opportunities and relationships. It will be easier to make people see your capabilities that can help you earn their respect.

However, smiling for no apparent reason seems easier said than done. It is even made harder when we must flash a sincere smile to strangers. So what must you do to make yourself smile even in front of someone you never met before? Practice.

As happiness guru Gretchen Rubin advised4, one needs to act the way they want to feel. If you want to practice being cheerful, you can try singing a happy tune every morning. If you can make yourself happy, it would easily reflect on your face. You’ll be able to show a sincere smile to everyone that you’ll interact with, regardless of whether they are close friends or strangers. A smile is a good start to give respect and gain respect. Aside from singing in the morning, what else can impart a lasting cheering effect on you that will keep you smiling for the rest of the day?

In today’s world, the definition of the word ‘decency’ gets lost on translation. After all, when you consult a dictionary, decency means behavior that is deemed good, moral, and acceptable in society. However, the modern world seems to thrive in the “live and let live” society – ergo, I won’t meddle on your affairs if you don’t meddle with mine.

So if this is the case, then is there still a need for a code of decency? The answer is a resounding yes! As Luke 6:31 says, “Do for others just what you want them to do for you”.

Therefore, if you want people to show you decent and respectable behavior, you must conduct yourself in a moral and acceptable manner.

What are the requirements for acceptable or respectable behavior? You can always follow Exodus 20: 3-17 or what the Catholics known as the Ten Commandments. While the original Ten Commandments were given to Moises to serve as a guide to the newly freed Israel, these laws still rang true for present and future generations. Even Matthew 22: 37-39 stresses the importance of these laws: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important commandment. The second most important commandment is like it: Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

Use the Ten Commandments as your ultimate guide to show decency and become a respectable member of the society. How can you show decency without appearing to exhibit ‘moral superiority’ and offending other people?

American poet Mary Oliver once wrote:

“Here’s a story, and you don’t have to visit many houses to find it. One person is talking, the other one is not really listening.

Someone can look like they are but they’re actually thinking about something they want to say, or their minds are just wandering. Or they’re looking at that little box people hold in their hands these days. And people get discouraged, so they quit trying.”

People tend to think about how they are going to reply when listening. When you just listen for the sake of listening, you tend to dismiss another’s worldview. This is especially true when the opinion of others clashes your own views. That’s why when we argue, we tend to speak louder to drown out the voice of our perceived enemy. We use sarcasm to belittle another’s opinion. We rely on barbs and insults to make the other party give up and agree with your views.

Contrary to popular belief, understanding an opposing view or opinion is not the same as agreeing with them. Even when you are in complete disagreement with what’s being said, you still need to listen and understand the other’s point of view. When you are open to discuss issues, you are opening yourself to learning more about this world.

Don’t let your stubbornness get in the way of valuing another’s opinion. Whenever you feel that your temper is getting the better of you in an argument, think of James 1:19: “Remember this, my brothers! Everyone must be quick to listen, but slow to speak and slow to become angry.”

As the adage says, it is better to catch flies with honey instead of vinegar. Being respected and liked by your family, peers, and even strangers are so much better than making them fear you. Sincere actions often lead to beautiful connections. Smiling, showing common decency, and listening are free. Use it more often. What can you do to stop your brain from wondering around when you’re supposed to be listening to people who are talking to you?