Having Respect for Others to Improve Mental Health

Respect, according to Webster, is to regard with special attention, to care for or to consider worthy of esteem. The goal of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris in 1948, was to grant status worthy of respect to all human beings. There are no exemptions as showing respect for our fellow humans is fundamental to a civil society. How do we show respect for others and what does it look like?

There are basic ways to demonstrate respect, beginning with listening. Listening to other people, whether we agree or not, shows that we care about what’s important to them. A key component of Mental Health First Aid, a program that teaches how to help someone who is developing a mental health issue, is listening non-judgmentally. When people have concerns, they don’t want someone to try to fix their problems. They just want someone to listen with empathy, affirming that they are heard, understood and worth listening to. Each person’s reality is unique to them and by hearing what their experiences are, we validate them.

Basic human kindness allows us to interact with others in a respectful, affirming way. Everyone has opinions and being kind and respectful doesn’t mean that we always agree. It means we allow for society’s differences and it demonstrates respect. Human beings have a need to be understood, not just agreed with. Saying something like, “I can understand why your experience would upset you” demonstrates respect. We may even come to an understanding about something that we’ve been uncomfortable with by simply being curious and listening.

Politeness goes hand in hand with kindness. I hope we aren’t losing the art of being polite but far too often we hear and see examples of discourse lacking the nuances of politeness. I recently placed a takeout order from a restaurant. When I arrived to pick up, an employee told me that they forgot to turn in my order so I would have to wait. When I said, “Ok, no problem. Let me know when it’s ready,” she stared at me open-mouthed. “That’s all you’re going to say?” she asked. I said, “Life is hard enough right now for everyone. What good would it do for me to yell at you?” She told me I made her day, just because I was respectful. I’m glad I had that affect yet I wonder how often people in service industries get chewed out by customers because errors are made. It’s so easy to move beyond mistakes and the impact on another person is powerful.

Helping other people is an important facet of demonstrating respect. By serving others, we’re giving back to them. There are few jobs or tasks we perform that don’t involve doing something for someone else. One interesting byproduct of helping other people is that we improve our own well-being too. We can build our own resilience and ability to navigate life’s challenges just by doing things to help others.  

Only meaningful, healthy relationships include mutual respect. Without it, relationships and people can’t thrive. My hope is that we all will grant the respect to others that they deserve and receive the respect we deserve in turn.

Printed in the Newark Advocate on August 2, 2020

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