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OPINION: Showing respect means paying attention to more than ourselves

By Monique Sliedrecht

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Northern Drift by Monique Sliedrecht

Respecting others is about seeing things from a different perspective.
Respecting others is about seeing things from a different perspective.

I’ve been staying with friends in England, one is a mediator and the other an artist. Something my friend the mediator said really struck me. We were talking about the art of listening, and he mentioned the true meaning of the word ‘respect’.

Respect comes from the Latin word ‘spectare’, which means ‘to look’, and ‘re’ in this word means to ‘do again’ – so to ‘respect’ another is ‘to look again’, making the effort to show deference to the uniqueness and value of another human being. I see you.

I see you.

Respect is a heightened attentiveness. It points to a kind of personal encounter which involves active listening. It is to look to the interests of others and not just our own.

Treating someone with respect means: showing regard for their abilities and worth; valuing their feelings and views even if you don’t necessarily agree with them; accepting them on an equal basis and giving them the same consideration you would expect for yourself. "Respect yourself and others will respect you." – Confucius

We can also think about respect in relation to the natural world around us and the need to give undivided attention.

The poet Mary Oliver writes: "Attention is the beginning of devotion." Earlier, in the same poem, she explains: "I don't know exactly what a prayer is / I do know how to pay attention." She muses on the question of who created the natural world around her, including the grasshopper – but not just any grasshopper:

"This grasshopper, I mean-/the one who has flung herself out of the grass,/the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,/who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-/who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes."

She recognises a profound connection between the natural world and the questions and difficulties of her own heart. Perhaps we could live in a way that is similar: filled with wonder and humble attentiveness.

"Instructions for living a life. / Pay attention. / Be astonished. / Tell about it." (Mary Oliver)

One of the greatest poets of the early twentieth century, Rainer Maria Rilke, saw the need to live fully and completely in the present, to pay attention to the outer world rather than to be overwhelmed by the questions and uncertainties and chaos all around.

In our own time, the fractures in society seem to be widening, the gap growing from person to person, as well as between us and nature. There is no ‘in-between’ anymore, no nuance or space for uncertainty. How would it be to live in the questions, as Oliver dares to do? And as Rilke suggested?

"…the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer." (Rilke)

Respect means to look again, to view twice; perhaps to look back one more time or go in a little closer to really notice something, and be okay with the questions.

I think of a story I grew up with, about Moses and the burning bush. He saw it at a distance, and then went in to have a closer look. A burning bush which is not consumed by the flames? How is that possible? In the end he realised that the ground on which he was standing was holy and he took his shoes off. Respect. Awe….

There are great rewards for all of us in looking twice, in respecting each other and the miracles of nature, in living a life of humble attentiveness.

Monique Sliedrecht.
Monique Sliedrecht.
  • Monique Sliedrecht is an artist and blogger based at Freswick. If you want to follow her writing or sketches, go to her blog at www.moniquesliedrecht.com

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