I recently came across the concept of "Owed Respect" versus "Earned Respect". It’s in reference to how leaders engage with employees, but for me it points to a deeper
understanding that can be applied between any two people, in any moment.
Owed Respect is realizing and recognizing our common humanity.
When we interact with anyone, no matter the person, we can always afford them the basic dignity of being human. We can always be mature and respectful, and offer our goodwill.
Earned Respect speaks more to specific behaviours. It’s another layer of how we navigate the relationship beyond what is owed. In business terms it could be something like affording more trust and responsibility
to those who have been more habitually reliable.
In my own words, I would explain Owed Respect as being able to see the beauty or
divinity or miracle in the other person's humanity… the part or essence of them that I can hold in awe, regardless of whatever behaviours they may demonstrate.
Using a spiritual metaphor, it could be referred to as “the formless”… all human beings being the temporary holders of the incomprehensible, infinite, miraculous, unchanging gift of life itself.
I would explain Earned Respect as simply using my moment-to-moment common sense to navigate all the behaviours as they arise (theirs, mine,
and the world’s).
Using a spiritual metaphor, it could be referred to as navigating “the form”… the continually
changing appearance of life in its infinite variety.
What’s interesting for me is that my level of ability to realize the Owed
Respect, is the basic barometer for how effectively I am offering the Earned Respect.
When I can't see the other person’s beauty,
or I'm not "feeling the love" so to speak (ie, not feeling the Owed Respect), it's my own internal barometer telling me I'm not as clear as I could be, and that I'm likely to respond out of insecurity, instead of clarity, common sense, and wisdom.
If that's the case, I can always feel it at some level. I may notice that I'm feeling separate from them in some way which can appear as being
judgmental, thinking I know better, thinking I know what their problem is and how it should be fixed, thinking I know “who and what” they are, seeing no possibility for redemption, losing my curiosity… the list is endless.
When I become aware of any of these tight and constricted feelings, it’s an indicator that I'm not as clear as I could be, and it reminds me to do whatever makes
sense in the moment to either lessen the interaction with them, or to see if I can re-set myself and get back the feeling of Owed Respect for them, and clarity for me.
From a felt understanding of Owed Respect, the interactions almost always go better. Most importantly, I become a better listener. In response, they tend to feel more heard and respected, so they tend to be more open and
respectful in return.
And even when my respect for them and clarity in the moment doesn't awaken the same in them, my own state of
clarity still gives me access on how best to respond to that. I don't take the interaction as personally, and so my ego doesn't need to get defensive. I see the experience more lightheartedly or philosophically, and I retain my own sense of goodwill, while
doing whatever needs to be done.
What's interesting is that all of us apply this in various ways, without even being aware of it.
It's kind of like writing a nasty email in an angry state of mind, but then deciding not to send it. Even within our anger, we get a bit of clarity that tells us to
not send it, or to hold off and edit it later once we've calmed down or slept on it. Even if we don’t see ourselves as being unclear in that moment, we sense that sending the email as it is, could result in more problems than we started with. Ultimately,
at a deeper level, it’s our own wisdom realizing it’s a good idea to wait until we can hold some Owed Respect for the other person, before we respond.
For me, Owed Respect is foundational to everything I navigate in life.
When I’m feeling the Owed
Respect for another person (or anything in life whether apparently living or not), it means I'm more clear and wise. Out of that clarity, the behaviours of navigating Earned Respect arise more effortlessly and tend to be more helpful.
When I’m not feeling the Owed Respect, AND I happen to notice it, it simply reminds me that, “Hey Jonelle, you’re human, remember?”. This will
usually be followed by an internal chuckle. I’ll then navigate the situation as best I can with awareness of my humanity, both the miraculous and the ridiculous.