R-E-S-P-E-C-T - it means wierd things to me...
September 17, 2009 4:29 PM   Subscribe

I think I'm ready to transition from being a person who primarily wants to be liked to a person who primarily wants to be respected.

I'm very respectable. I'm responsible, interesting, a good and caring person, yada yada.
But I don't openly stand my ground. I don't take leadership roles. I avoid talking about my achievements. If I've asserted myself, I feel funny about it and backtrack into being sheepish and self-effacing. All this, because I'm afraid that while I might be respected more for doing these things, they feel icky and make me uncomfortable. I don't want to intimidate other people. The thought of being an intimidating person horrifies me. I also don't want to become insensitive to others. I don't want to be seen as arrogant, or a jerk. I don't want to come off as though I think I'm better than other people. The qualms go on and on...

When I was much younger, I got my social currency from being pitied. People were attracted to a) dominating me; or b) taking care of me. Now that I'm not such a moron, I get that social currency from being likeable and thus well-liked. But I think I'm ready to graduate to being respected.

Please help me figure out how I can do this, especially given my wierd hang-up(s)!
posted by kitcat to Society & Culture (13 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, I'm a woman. And 29.
posted by kitcat at 4:39 PM on September 17, 2009

Years ago I learned a different way to understand what disagreeing meant.

Someone presented to me the idea that a person's freedom could be measured with the number of alternatives they had available to them (in the mathematical sense of measurement). He treated agreement as a redundancy that one should waste as little time as possible on, and a legitimate and novel disagreement as an offer (even if not applicable in that time it could be input to a future decision). He would shut me up if I tried to agree with him, and listen carefully and ask questions if I disagreed in a way that was new to him. Conversely he would not make much about agreeing with me, but would be very insistent on the most minute disagreement.

I ended up not liking him very much, but respecting him pretty deeply.
posted by idiopath at 4:41 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Whether you place the emphasis on being liked or being respected is beside the point if you still depend too much on the opinions of others.

While easier said than done, the most important thing you can do to become your own person is to stop caring so much about what other people think of you. Once you become your own person you'll find that many people will like you, and some people won't like you, but you will--provided that you're a decent, reasonable person (which you clearly are because you're not an arrogent jerk)--gain respect as a matter of course. Good luck. YOU CAN do it!
posted by applemeat at 4:52 PM on September 17, 2009 [3 favorites]

Read The Prince by Machiavelli. It's almost the very core of what you want answered here. You want to improve your reputation to one of respect, but you don't want to be hated in doing so. The book explores the question of whether or not it is better, in a position of power, to gain the respect of others by having them love you... or fear you.

The first point he makes is that people, generally speaking, are good and virtuous people who, for whatever reason, don't necessarily live their lives that way. If you agree with that, then you can go forward.

So, on the reputation of a Prince, he writes;
"Since there are many possible qualities that a prince can be said to possess, he must not be overly concerned about having all the good ones. Also, a prince may be perceived to be merciful, faithful, humane, frank, and religious, but he should only seem to have these qualities. A prince cannot truly have these qualities because at times it is necessary to act against them. Although a bad reputation should be avoided, this is not crucial in maintaining power. The only ethic that matters is one that is beneficial to the prince in dealing with the concerns of his state."
He also deals with the question of whether it is better to be loved (you could supplement 'love' for 'respect' for the purposes of your question) than feared. Machiavelli writes, “The answer is of course, that it would be best to be both loved and feared. But since the two rarely come together, anyone compelled to choose will find greater security in being feared than in being loved.”

However Machiavelli strongly suggests that the leader, in this case the prince, must not be hated. He states "...a wise prince should establish himself on that which is his own control and not in that of others; he must endeavour to avoid hatred, as is noted."

To avoid being hated, Machiavelli also suggests that the Prince will be fine if he keeps his people content and does not deprive them of their property and women. A prince can instead command respect through his conduct, because a prince that is highly respected by his people is unlikely to face internal struggles.

But where a prince truly earns honor is by completing "great feats". He says that the most important virtue for a leader is having the wisdom to discern "what ventures will come with the most reward and then pursuing it courageously."

The lessons from Machiavelli to you, then, is as follows. Upon taking a leadership role, as you say you sometimes do, conduct yourself well and do the best job you can possibly do. Strive towards your goals, relentlessly chase those objectives but be conscientious about how you achieve them. And on your way to those goals, don't deprive others of things important to them (in a modern day context, this would mean do not infringe on their own positions of power or threaten the stability of their jobs which provide them income to gain possessions and arguably to flourish in their personal relationships).

If you do all of these things you will, as leader, become respected and achieve what is important to you.

This is just an overview, so for a deeper understanding, try and pick up an English copy of The Prince or a book that analyses it.
posted by Effigy2000 at 5:25 PM on September 17, 2009 [3 favorites]

People like you for what you are.
People respect you for what you do.

Respect is gained through achievement, not through mannerism.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:59 PM on September 17, 2009 [6 favorites]

When you don't like the way you are, and you want to change, one good way is to see a therapist. A good one will help you sort out the childhood influences and help you develop into the person you want to be.
posted by exphysicist345 at 6:01 PM on September 17, 2009

Could I be a bit contrarian here and suggest that there's more than one way in which 'respect' can be understood? Some people see postnominals after your name, or see the school you went to, or see who your friends and family are connected to, and accord you respect on that basis. It's a kind of respect, and a lot of people put a lot of emphasis and faith in it, but it doesn't reflect you or what you do.

Then there's the kind of respect that comes from being a trustworthy, stand-up kind of person. You know, the kind where you always know where you stand with them, no games, treats people with respect and consideration without being obsequious, doesn't complain but offers solutions, etc.

I'm kind of assuming you want the second of these two forms of respect. If so, your behaviour is the driving force here; the second form of respect comes from asking yourself what you can achieve today, who is going to help you do it, and how it's going to get done. Like applemeat says, it's not about what other people think of you. It's about what you want to set out to do. Pick something, formulate a plan to do it, and then get it done.
posted by LN at 7:51 PM on September 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

Why not try just not caring what people think for a while - that should cure you of approval seeking. You can build from there.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 7:52 PM on September 17, 2009

Sounds to me that you still care what others think. To me, action speaks louder than words. People will respect you for what you do. Your body of work will lead people to understand your principles and ideals. Discussing your achievements will not make folks respect you. I respect people much more who never tell me about their good deeds than those who do the exact same deeds but blab. I find that a form of respect comes from consistency. When I can count on you to do something or act in a certain way, I respect that even if I expect you to do something random. Staying true to yourself. To thyne own self be true. Respect also has different meanings in different communities. When I was a young Gunn, my social circle might respect the guy who climbed the fence to get into the community pool to go swimming at midnight on a weekend. That same act would get the opposite reaction today from the same group of friends. Mostly, I now think that respect is earned by people who generally do things that either put others first or that help others in some way. THe volunteer coaches, the guy who starts a charity race to raise money for a cause that is near and dear, the person who volunteers for the local town or school board who gets nothing in return. I also respect the person whose actions back up his talk. I have a young neighbor who joined the military after talking about obligations the young adults in our country have. I may or may not agree with his joining the marines, but I damn sure do respect and honor him for it.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:28 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

While I agree with most of what has already been said, I think that one also gains the respect of others through one's beliefs. Granted, a belief that never leads to action may be indistinguishable from a non-belief, but we don't all have to work in soup lines or join the Peace Corps to demonstrate our magnanimity.

If you really believe in something, and carry yourself according to those beliefs, even in tiny, almost imperceptible ways, people will respect that, even if they don't agree with it. The key, though, is that the belief must be genuine. Hopping on the latest bandwagon is likely to have the opposite effect.
posted by war wrath of wraith at 10:07 PM on September 17, 2009

Is this about you standing up for yourself, or becoming a leader? I will write this comment assuming the former.

You are not standing up for yourself because you want to retain the option of having others care for you. Part of that is healthy human social behavior (we need other people to survive). Part of that is pathological because you end up giving up more than you will ever get in return.

Think about a time that you didn't stand up for yourself and ended up being severely disadvantaged. Lost money, lost time, lost health, lost happiness. Was it worth it?

Think about a good suggestion that you had for a project or plan that you didn't share, or shared in a wishy-washy way. You didn't push it hard enough--the project didn't work as well as it could have. Was it worth it?

Of course, the best way to get over this kind of hesitancy is to be completely desperate with no hope of assistance. I don't suggest it, though!
posted by kathrineg at 3:45 AM on September 18, 2009

Part of gaining the respect of others, I have found, is to stop caring what they think in the first place. It signifies strength and the ability to think for oneself. Only when you have those can you start thinking about others and doing right by them. The respect will come with that and time.
posted by arishaun at 9:01 PM on September 18, 2009

I have a dear, dear friend who was my roommate during our last year of theological school. After graduation, I went into parish ministry and he went on to earn his Ph.D. in theological ethics, and was actually made a department chair at a liberal arts college before he had even defended his dissertation.

He is easily, far and away the most brilliant person I have ever known. He helped start a newspaper and sold a screenplay before his mid-twenties. In fact, the screenplay may have been when he was still in high school.

Last month, I performed his wedding, and at the rehearsal dinner, childhood neighbors, undergraduate friends, and colleagues were sharing experiences they had with him when one person said what I think everyone who knows this guy thinks about him: "Though he is always the smartest guy in the room, he never, ever once made me feel stupid."

My friend's amazing gift is his comfort in his own skin. He is outstanding at what he does, and he never denies his talent. He knows what he knows, and he knows it. However, he has a deep and abiding sense that God gifts everyone, just not in the same way, and because of this, and because of his great compassion and genuine interest in the lives of others, he makes everyone around him feel like a rock star.

This, I believe, is also how he can expose his students to quite rigorous academic standards, and they still love him.

Chocolate Pickle is correct. Respect indeed comes from achievement, not mannerisms. In the example I'm giving, if my friend doesn't need mannerisms of false modesty (which are terribly annoying and transparent). He is respected because of what he does, but he is loved for who he is. Would if I could learn how to better distinguish and separate the two in my own life.
posted by 4ster at 9:21 PM on September 18, 2009

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