REAL Values: RESPECT
A good starting point for any leader
This post is the first of four, covering the topic of RESPECT. Later posts will cover the remaining REAL Values: Engage, Accept, and Lead. These are the four values forming the foundation of how I approach ministry as well as leadership. I encourage you to read this entire post and then share your thoughts in the Comments below.
A little background:
Back in the mid-aughts, I first began really looking at all the leadership tools and tactics available and it was overwhelming. There are so many approaches and schools of thought, but how do you decide what to use when? It felt like I needed something more foundational – more fundamental – that would be broadly applicable. I wasn’t out to solve every problem. Instead, I wanted to figure out how to more effectively approach every situation and better assess any potential solution.
So I created a simple set of values to measure our choices and actions against. REAL Values. REAL stands for Respect, Engage, Accept, and Lead. It’s a framework that’s easy to learn and implement in our daily lives, but the impact can be absolutely profound.
I must admit that, until recently, I hadn’t really thought deeply about these values as I used them with my youth group. I’ve found the surface meaning of them is good enough when working with teens. The basic, straightforward definitions of the four values gives me plenty to discuss with them. But to offer these values up as a framework to approach progressive leadership required a bit more thought!
However… before I dive in, here is a brief explanation for those of you in a hurry.
RESPECT should be the starting point for everything we do, which means respecting ourselves, other people, our communities, our world, and beyond – basically, all of creation. If we can’t meet the challenge of starting from a place of respect, then we’ll fail the other three challenges (Engage, Accept, and Lead).
The dictionary defines respect as being “a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.” The second definition is “due regard for the feelings, wishes, rights, or traditions of others.” Taken together, these two definitions reflect the typical idea of “respect.” But for our purposes, this is only the beginning of our understanding of the concept.
Where the Relaxed Leader differs with the standard definition of “respect” is that we believe respect is a basic human right and a basic right of all creation. Every human being is worthy of respect by the mere fact that they’re human. And every living thing – including the environments and ecosystems they participate in – are also deserving of respect.
Without a foundation of respect, everything falls apart.
The word respect comes from the Latin word “respectus,” meaning attention, regard or consideration. People often think of showing respect as being the ability to value and honor others – both their words and actions – even if we don’t agree with or approve of those words and actions. Of course, this understanding of respect is still conditional because it requires us to find a way to value and honor words and actions we find truly abhorrent. It follows that respect is something a person must earn by at least presenting something worthy in what they’re saying and doing.
As an example from my own experience, how could I possibly respect a white supremacist? And why the hell would I want to? I find their words, actions, and beliefs absolutely horrifying. How can people hold such hateful views? If anyone ever deserved to be “labeled and dismissed”... there you go!
Personality isn’t permanent:
Okay, but let’s think about the consequences of taking that approach. What would happen if I ignore my own advice and simply “label and dismiss” anyone I believe to be a white supremacist?
First of all, people aren’t born hateful and racist. They’re fed those ideas and they come to believe them. How does that happen? And can it be undone? There are plenty of people smarter than me who are tackling the first question, so I’ll leave it alone for now. But the answer to the second question is yes, it can be undone. Personality isn’t permanent. People and their beliefs can and do change.
As much as I hate to admit it, I used to be fairly conservative. I admired Ronald Reagan. I despised Bill Clinton. And I voted for Ross Perot as a “protest vote.” All of that is embarrassing to me today but I was all-in back then!
Why and how did I change? I changed because I learned more. I managed to see a different side of things. Yes, I had to listen to others – but it actually started with others listening to me. Friends were willing to engage in spirited debates with me. And because they were willing to engage with me, I engaged with them. Over time, what they were saying started to make sense. I combined their words with what I was starting to see and experience personally, and my views began to change.
Respect can make the difference:
My friends showed me respect, even though they disagreed with my opinions. They engaged with me and didn’t just push me away or ignore me. And they accepted me even though we disagreed on so many things. People can be friends and not agree on religion and politics. In fact, those can end up being some of the strongest friendships.
You’re not just friends because of your similarities. You’re friends in spite of all your differences too. When some new disagreement comes up, it’s not a big deal because you already know you don’t see eye-to-eye on everything! What’s one more difference of opinion?
Of course, to be friends you have to have something in common, a shared experience, or some other reason to like each other. And your differences can’t be so fundamental that they’re impossible to set aside. For example, I don’t believe I could be friends with someone who is unabashedly white supremacist. I can be friends (or at least “friendly”) with people who have some racist views but aren’t completely and overtly racist – probably because some of my relatives are like that – but there are certain things we simply cannot overcome in order to truly be friends.
However, if I can acknowledge that personality isn’t permanent – that people can change – then I can also acknowledge the basic value of every human life. I can respect the person’s humanity. I can respect their life experiences and know they’ve been shaped by what has happened to them, just as I have.
Yes, it’s a minimal amount of respect – but it’s a constructive amount as well.
Respect enables engagement:
If I can manage to truly give a basic level of respect to even a white supremacist, then it will show through in the way I choose to engage with them. It should prevent me from coming across as arrogant or disgusted or angry or hateful. Hopefully I’ll come across as reasonable and as being willing to dialog. If I can engage them in a conversation about values and fears, then I can learn something.
And I don’t mean values like FREEDOM and ‘MURICA and GUNS! That’s surface-level bullshit. I need to find a way to go deeper than that. When people claim something as a value – just like I’m claiming that “respect” is a value – it means something to them. They may not have thought deeply about their values though, so a Relaxed Leader will try to provide an opportunity for them to do so.
For example, what is it about “freedom” that they find valuable? And what does freedom even mean to them? Freedom to work two jobs (and still barely make ends meet)? Freedom to not pay for health insurance (so you can buy food without having to put more on the credit card)? Freedom to say whatever you want (because lashing out in anger at an “enemy” is your only catharsis in an unjust world)? Is that really freedom?
So many people who talk about freedom seem absolutely trapped to me. If I can get them to talk about THAT, then we’re getting somewhere. I can learn what it is they truly value – not the bullshit talking points and dumb-ass memes – and maybe start to understand why they’re so angry. So angry that they’re willing to believe there are other entire groups of human beings who are worthless.
But if I can’t show them at least a modicum of respect, then I’ll never even get that far.
Respect may not beget respect:
Perhaps the hardest part is that they may not show me any respect at all in return. Definitely not at first – but maybe never. That doesn’t make it a futile effort though because I will learn from it. I will start to understand those who so vehemently disagree with me, and that’s a step in the right direction.
Who knows? Maybe what I do will actually make an impact. I truly believe that even the smallest of actions, especially when they’re good and well-intentioned, can have a ripple effect. Like dropping a pebble into a still lake, what I do with intention can make tiny, almost imperceptible waves, spreading outward beyond my personal reach.
The bottom line:
To be a Relaxed Leader means to give everyone at least a basic level of respect. It doesn’t mean you agree with them or even like them – in fact, you might honestly dislike them – but respect is still part of the foundation we need to build upon. And it may just be the first step on the path to a better world for everyone.
I’d love to get a conversation started, so please feel free to leave a comment below. I’ll keep an eye out and respond as time allows. If others comment, please feel free to engage with them RESPECTfully! We’re all in this together… so let’s start acting like it.