Sustaining Respect through Spirituality

Of all the human values that sustain the society or any system, RESPECT is considered to be the most basic one. It is considered to be the way to imbibe others ethics easily. The seeds of respect are sown into every individual since the early years. It is observed that in any household, children are taught to greet elders with gestures of respect and the language taught to them is that of honor and respect towards others. Whether it is “ladies first”, “pehle aap”, “haanji”, “shukriya”, “thank you”, etc the code of conduct of respect is reflected in every civilized gentry. In India, which is considered as world’s spiritual guru, the rich culture and heritage reflects respect for every individual. Any guest is equated to deity by the feeling of ‘atithi Devo bhav’. Parents are considered next to God, particularly mothers. A girl child born in a family or a new bride in household is considered to be ‘Lakshmi’ (the goddess of wealth and fortune). It is taught that every women should be considered as your sister or mother, out of respect. The nation is also equated to a mother and ‘Vande Matram’ is sung in its praise. Be it ‘Mother-land’ or ‘Mother-tongue’ it depicts the feelings of respect towards the seen or the unseen, tangible or non-tangible entities. More-so, the names of most of the rivers are feminine and they are considered to be sacred. All the elements of nature are worshipped as gods and goddess. Like the elements of fire, earth, water, air, mountains, trees, sun, moon, stars, constellations are considered as gods and goddesses. Not just the Indian civilization, but other civilizations or cultures also have a rich heritage of equating various forces of nature with gods and goddesses.
However, while the above mentioned facts arouse the feelings of pride, somewhere we are not convinced by them as what one observes in practise is different than this. Thus it makes us wonder, what could be the main reason for lack of respect among individuals, as what is heard and spoken differs from what we see and observe being practised around us. To understand this gap and ways to bridge it, lets first look at the meaning and manifestations of respect more deeply and holistically.
• Self Respect- The seed to cultivate Respect for Others
Self respect is the virtue or the feeling of self worth, which includes valuing one’s belief system, one’s strengths, acknowledging and accepting one’s limitations without feeling defeated and with a vision to overcome those. As per the ancient spiritual wisdom of the India, we are aware that every individual is a combination of physical and spiritual entities that have a symbiotic relationship with each other. The spiritual entity makes the physical entity (body and its systems) work but it itself cannot function without the medium of the body. When we understand that it is the spiritual entity that defines our state of being- our thoughts, actions and personality traits put together, and not the physical entity, it automatically fosters a feeling of being beyond the effect of good and bad, praise or defamation governed by or as a result of the physical entity. We understand more deeply what is our original worth and that anything external or anything materialistic can affect only the physical and not the spiritual entity, unless we ourselves allow it to impact that deep- core- immortal- spiritual- consciousness.
When I appreciate the existence, the qualities and the worth of the spiritual side of my being, I also start appreciating the same for others around me. This induces a feeling of humility in the self. Each river crosses so many obstacles and travels such a long way just to merge in the ocean only because the ocean is humble and respects the river. Similarly a person with humility attracts the love and respect of others. Hence to give respect is to take respect.
If I come back home on a sunny- hot afternoon and expect someone to offer me a glass of water for instant relief from the effect of the heat outside, I also understand that it is completely fine if others expect the same from me. Thus, I automatically understand the needs of others and it would be easy for me to develop a sense of respect for them as well and treat them the way we would want to be treated.
• Respect is like Sunshine
As the rays of the Sun transform darkness into light and help us see the true colors of an object, respect helps us look at the true state of the being of every individual and we get exposed to their brighter side (they may have a dark side as well, of which I am fully aware; but I am not influenced by that) and I give them the respect that they deserve. Also, the rays of the Sun have the capability to kill germs. Similarly, when we start respecting others, we tend to dissolve disputes and remove the germs of ill-feeling for others resulting in initiation of better karmic accounts with that person, in other words, settling previous negative karmic accounts. Gradually, as I mend up the karmic account with that individual, a spiritual entity, it is reciprocated in the same way (depending upon how much I need to settle the karmic accounts from my end).
• To Respect others is to admire their qualities
It is true that if I start respecting an individual, I start noticing more of their qualities. However, the corollary to this is also true: When I start noticing the strengths and qualities of an individual, I generate a feeling of respect of them.
Respect can also be understood as a deep feeling of admiration for someone’s qualities, abilities or achievements. So let’s think of all those abilities that we actually admire in an individual we respect (could be specific to different persons as well). Now, give yourself a moment to think: Is this ability or quality limited to only that person, or do I know someone else who has that or a similar quality? If yes, do I respect them in the same manner? If no, then it is most likely that I don’t have equal respect for them due to some of their weakness that rules my mind. So when I fail to demonstrate respect for someone, it is actually because my mind is clouded by their weakness or some negativity. Thus, to start respecting people, start noticing their strengths and qualities.
• Respecting others generates Equality
I know that each one of us has a specific role in this big picture- the world drama. If we think about someone we respect, we would realize that it is not the role in itself but how that person uses those qualities in their role, is what we admire; i.e. it is actually a regard for their abilities or qualities. So each individual is playing their part. A direct result of understanding the worth of the spiritual entity and demonstrating the ability to distinguish the spiritual entity to be separate from the role one plays is that it also dissolves the difference in the way we treat different individuals. If a movie has an actor, it also has a villain. Both the actors, even though having opposite characters, are respected as individuals; despite their roles being so different; as the spiritual entity is eternal while the role is subject to change. We appreciate that the role is not of the prime importance, but it is the individual playing that role- which is of a greater worth. So we value and accept the rich- the poor, the blacks- the whites, the elders- the peers- the subordinates, every individual in the family- neighborhood- workplace, also the strangers, people of all backgrounds, nationalities, gender, caste or creed and start developing the same feeling of respect for each one of them.
• To Respect is to Listen
One of the best ways to show respect for someone is to truly listen to another’s point of view. It prevents me to become judgmental or establishing prejudices for someone. Listening enables us to covey “I understand what you say/ mean and I care for your feelings”. Sometimes, to be heard is the biggest satisfaction one needs. We should allow others to express their views freely. While listening, we should feel as a ‘child’ who is keen to know and doesn’t color the perception about the other person on the basis of what they express, even though we may or may not agree with the same. When it comes to taking decision, we have our own right to be the ‘master’ and go by what we feel is right.
• Respecting others demonstrates Acceptance
Respecting others also means to respect their ideas and beliefs even if they are not the same as mine. It is to start accepting their feelings, their decisions, their space & privacy, their belongings, their limits etc and this brings us in harmony to people around me. In fact respecting others means to celebrate diversity.
I appreciate the fact that no two individuals or actors on this planet can have the same role, as each one us is unique. Each of us has had a unique and different journey over many lives. When I am are not fully aware of even my journey so far, how can I expect others to be aware of the same and moreover, how can I be aware of what their journey has been like? What I take currently as right for me is according to my experiences accumulated during my journey. The same stands true for others. Thus, we must appreciate that what is right for me could be the other way round for someone else. So, the definition of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ is unique to each one of us. Hence, when we say “you are wrong” in other words, we mean to convey “your right is not aligned to my definition of right (as my journey and the experiences during that journey have been different than yours), so I take it as wrong”. This helps me to understand that I need not expect others to have the same belief systems, the same choices and the same definition of right as mine and neither can I change them according to me but I can rather enjoy the diversity of characters in this beautiful bouquet of world. It’s when I start the chain reaction of acceptance, others follow me and the reaction propagates.
An ocean accepts the water of all rivers and even the debris coming along with the river without any discrimination and prejudice. The water of the river assimilates with the ocean’s water while the ocean waves leave the debris at the shore. Moreover, the surface of the ocean has waves but the ocean bed is still and full of jewels. Similarly, each individual is a bundle of strengths and weaknesses. To look at other’s weaknesses or strengths is to make them your own. If we reject the person looking at their weakness, we are also deprived of their strengths or qualities. Thus if we become like an ocean, accepting everyone around us, leaving the negativities at the shore and assimilating their qualities in me, I can remain stable, peaceful and powerful within.
• To Respect is to demonstrate Obedience
Obedience is a demonstration of respect. Whether it is abiding by the laws of the society, or organizational values or guidelines, or following the advice or ethical principles laid by the elders- obedience towards them is taken as regard for the person or body in concern of those principles or laws. In order words, to respect others is to show faith in their judgment and to be committed to it.
• Respect- it freely flows…
It is not just the individuals that ought to be respected, but everything tangible and intangible around us. Be it time, money, resources, rules, disciplines, nature, environment etc, everything deserves respect. Hence, respect is intrinsic trait and subjective rather than dependent on the object. If we experience a high level of self- respect ourselves, it simply overflows and it is easy to extend and sustain the feeling to others.