The other day I happened to read an article in the papers about respect that started me thinking. What is respect, in actuality? Is it really so easy to lose the aspect most relationships are built on? It seems so. It’s scary, but true. We all, each and every one of us hide behind masks. The regard we hold for people is built over time, through many ups and downs, we excuse those people for almost anything. But sometimes, just a word, a sentence spoken at the wrong time, a response or the lack of it…. And it’s all over. Just one unfeeling word or action, and it all falls down like a house of cards.
Disillusioned and surprised at the face you see, at the entity that lurks behind the mask that you thought you knew so well. Is this the friend you trusted with your inner-most secrets and shared your laughter with? Is this the lover, your partner, that you gave your all to with spontaneity? Is that what they actually are, so at variance with your self-perception? Is that what they think? Maybe….
Yes. And it hurts. I lost all respect for a friend when I told her that I suspected my husband of infidelity and she turned around and told me, “All men do it”. What I heard was, “Deal with it, there’s nothing you can do”. Words once uttered can’t be retracted. I lost all regard for my husband when he turned around and told me, “I have been asking around, and everyone I have spoken to agree that I have every right to raise my hand on my wife”. He had justified his actions to himself. He condoned himself for torturing me physically and mentally, for trying to break my spirit. That one sentence shocked me out of my wits and I lost any shred of respect I held for him. It was at that moment that I realized that I wouldn’t be able to respect myself if I took what was happening lightly thinking that he will at some point see the light at the end of the tunnel. And I walked out.
We all at some point get negative thoughts, about even the ones we love the most. Sometimes, at unguarded moments, it may well slip out. We reveal our inner-most, darkest selves to a loved one and there’s no turning back. Sometimes we say things in self-defense or attack a well-wisher when cornered, with verbal knives that we may later regret, but can’t take back the words or actions. It is only under extreme pressure that our true character is revealed. Each of us is very well aware of who we really are deep down. However, that does not mean that those closest to us are privy to that self or to our deepest thoughts.
Is respect such a fragile thing? It’s certainly not something that should be taken for granted, because, yes, it is fragile. Respect, unlike regard, is something we need to keep working on maintaining. For it can snap, like a strand of thread. When we have a high regard for someone, it is maybe because of whom they are, or the tradition surrounding them. One has regard for an aged person, a teacher or a learned person. Respect on the other hand is what we develop for a particular trait in those that we observe and interact most closely with, those closest to us. Thus it is important to maintain the aspect of respect because that is the basis, quite often, of most relationships.
My elders always exhorted me to think before I spoke. Yet there are times in all our lives where we have spoken without thinking and lived to regret it. Time was when I used to think that one had to weigh one’s words so as to not hurt another. It’s only recently that I have come to the realization that the greatest harm we do when we speak without thinking is to ourselves!