Guest Column: A Lesson in Respect

Samantha Gillihan, Better Business Bureau

A few weeks ago, my daughter received a lecture about showing more respect at home. It was not the first lecture of its kind. In true preteen style, it was met with an eye roll and a bored, “I know, I know …” It was a frustrating moment. With as many times as we had that same discussion, my repeated words were not sinking in.

Then I asked myself to define respect. I had a jumble of ideas come to mind, but nothing I could easily put into words. After five years working with Better Business Bureau, I was surprised I had not considered this more. Our eight Standards for Trust each embody an aspect of respect further making the practice of it part of my daily life. But that still did not mean I was consciously aware of what that entailed. I thought about how the concept of respect is often associated with good behavior. Act a certain way to show respect and that is the correct way to act. Within this context, though, without any delineation as to what this behavior entails, it becomes vaguely synonymous with merely ‘being good.’ I realized I was throwing around a word that I was not giving any substance to.

While respect is certainly good, it is far more robust than making a choice. Respect needs to be understood as the foundation for acknowledging and appreciating the worth in ourselves and those around us. It is not simply doing the right thing; it is the value that we use to place importance on any given thing. Holding fast to that value is when we make better choices and we make them because we believe in the importance of respect.

Later that night, I sat down with my daughter and asked her what respect meant to her. She admitted that she saw it as a parental buzzword that indicated she was messing up somewhere and that she needed to stop. It was not a value in her mind. It was an unclear command. I responded by telling her that I admire who she is and how she carries herself. That I see her talents and abilities and I am proud. That she has worth and not only do I see that worth, I hold it in very high esteem. She is important to me. That is what respect meant to me and taking the time to articulate my definition to her in a way that made the concept clear was how I was showing her respect.

I went on to tell her that respect is what guides everything I do. For me, it is a reminder to be patient with my headstrong child. It stops me from saying or doing something hurtful in a heated moment. Most importantly, it keeps reverence for the existence of others at the forefront of the decisions I make. All of which is possible when I first admire and hold in high esteem the worth I find in myself.

She smiled and nodded, satisfied with this new way of looking at respect. I smiled, too. Pulling apart this word for her made that same word so much more meaningful. Of course respect was already an important value to me, but I had to sit and ponder for a while before I could explain that importance to someone else. How well was I paying it to others if I was not able to define it? How well was I paying it to myself? I find that I repeat those two questions frequently now, using them to determine my next step.

While my daughter is still prone to rolling her eyes, I see her being more thoughtful now in how she acts. The value placed on this previously muddy concept is increasing for her. I hope she sees that same thoughtfulness in me, too. In showing her where I was coming from, she helped to give me a very significant lesson in understanding and action that I hope to never forget.

Samantha Gillihan has worked with BBB for five years, working with businesses and the community to establish marketplace trust. A busy wife and mother, she combines family time with service as a volunteer and former Chairwoman of the Family Readiness Group and volunteer for Idaho Military Youth, both National Guard organizations.