Monday, November 11, 2019

Psychology of Respect

Respect is a bipolar relational concept describing a person’s social status and likeability within a social group.

Groups vary in size. Groups may be small such as family members, a classroom, or a department at work. And groups may be as large as a university, professional association, multinational corporation, or nation.

Respect is a bipolar concept. The nature of respect is evident in the anchor words we use to describe level of respect as high or low. Not surprisingly, level of respect varies based on the perception group members have of the words and deeds of another group member. Of course, different people have may different opinions regarding the level of respect that should be accorded to a group member.

Social status is linked to a group’s values. Groups have different qualities that they highly value such as loyalty, kindness, wealth, fitness, attractiveness, musical talent, writing ability, and so forth. People who have high levels of several values gain higher status, which is an aspect of respect. Sometimes the social status is evident in observable ways such as clothing, medals, places to sit at a meeting, and so forth. In some cultures, social status along with respectful treatment can be purchased such as buying a first-class plane ticket.

Likeability refers to personal qualities, which are highly valued within a group. People who appear cheerful, interested, respectful of others, sincere, and so forth get high respect. Physically attractive people often get high respect evident by people wanting to spend more time with them.

Different groups may hold competing values. For example, high levels of wealth are highly valued in many western cultures. However, a poor person who has given her life to helping the poor can also be regarded with a high level of respect.

Loss of respect. Loss of respect happens when there is evidence of a serious breach of a group’s values. Groups that value freedom from sexual harassment will quickly devalue the respect status of the person who harasses. When it comes to moral violations, one powerful driver of disrespect is the emotion of disgust. Disgust is often, but not exclusively, linked to socially unacceptable sexual behavior.

Respect for the office. In western cultures, people are expected to treat people holding certain positions with culturally defined ways of showing respect. When an officeholder has behaved disrespectfully, members are expected to show respect to the position even if they consider the officeholder as a person who does not deserve respect. This can happen with high level political leaders like presidents and prime ministers.

Respect and Virtues. In some groups, the possession of certain traditional virtues gain high levels of respect. In some groups, people feel conflicted about the virtues. For example, self-confident leaders may border on being arrogant and violate a value of humility.

For an application of respect to parenting and teaching, see Discipline with Respect. 


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