If you’ve been following my Musings at all, you’ve probably noticed that ‘Respect’, and ‘Honouring Our Humanity’ are like bookends in the notion of realizing RICH relationships – whether that’s relationships with ourselves, with others, or for that matter with anything in our lives. But it was only recently when I came across an image shared by a Facebook friend of mine, that I recognized the way sometimes “respect” has a very different meaning than the one I use.

Have a look at this image my friend shared:

Here’s where I found this post

I’ve not been able to discover the original source for this quote – if you know I’d love to hear!

When I use the word “respect” the meaning I intend is “treating someone like a person” – that is with honour. I don’t mean “treating someone like an authority”, though in truth my intention is to be respectful in all of my relationships, including those in authority.

And though we’re far from this just now, the vision of the world I hold is one where those in the role of an authority are respectful of those they hold authority over – regardless of whether they themselves are being treated with respect. I get this is a challenging thing to ask. It’s something that none of us do perfectly. AND, to me it’s part of the responsibility of being a leader.

It seems that one of the most important factors determining how we understand and use the word respect depends on whether we choose (whenever possible) to stand for a world where we exercise ‘power with’, rather than ‘power over’.

Doing this can be tricky too, because so many of us grew up in a world where that power over notion of ‘you must respect me’ (meaning you must do what I say/want), or the censure of ‘you’re being disrespectful to me’ (meaning you’re NOT doing what I said I wanted, so you’ll be punished) were SO pervasive. We often experienced this with our parents, and later in schools, churches, and other groups that were part of our socialization.

And though to many of us, even when we were young, it was clear that what these authority figures were demanding of us was wrong, as kids we were dependent on them for our survival, so our choices were pretty limited.

Conditioning instilled at that young age can be very powerful, so it’s not surprising (especially when we’re stressed – whatever the pressure) that even when we intend to be respectful and caring, we can still find ourselves reverting to those old patterns of trying to control by whatever means.

Many years ago when my daughter (soon to be 30) was about 3, it was often very challenging to get her dressed in the morning before we needed to head out the door – I’d drop her off at pre-school before heading to work myself. Some days things went fine. Other days when I tried to dress her she would fuss and complain, and in my frustration and internal time pressure, I’d just pull the clothes on her, ignoring her tears.

I didn’t like it, but at the time I didn’t know what else to do. Years later she would tell me that on the days she was upset, it was because the fabric of whatever I was trying to dress her in felt really awful on the skin of this sensitive child of mine. I had no idea, and didn’t take the time to find out.

This was another moment of snuggling with two of my babies, shortly after I’d returned home after an extended vacation. This time I knew it was a moment we all needed a snuggle!

Even though at the time neither of us had language to describe what was happening, all these years later, I will never forget the day that this extraordinary child became my teacher in interrupting the power struggle between us, and allowed us to co-create an experience of power with.

That day, in the midst of my frustration and her tears, she stopped and said “Mummy, I need a snuggle.” Thankfully, the wisdom in her words was clear to me, and in that moment of pausing, we could both breathe and come back to our hearts – to the caring connection we both longed for and needed.

There was a powerful strength in her simple vulnerable statement that made a huge difference between us.

As I reflect on this experience all these years later, it’s clear to me that the minute we enter power struggle, it’s like we’re at war and there’s no possibility of having our deepest desires met.

I’ve recently been introduced to Sharon Strand Ellison’s work Powerful Non-Defensive Communication, and early in her book Taking the War Out of Our Words something she wrote stopped me in my tracks.

She wrote “I believe that power struggle functions as an addiction. … We have a compulsion to win that can become more important than caring for another person or even our own ethics. The belief that winning is essential to our well-being blinds us to a progressively destructive process that leaves us with less than we started with.”

She continued “… it may be the most pervasive addiction on earth. … Far from helping us to achieve our goals, power struggle blocks us from meeting two basic human needs: to feel connected with others in love and to maximize our capacity for individual growth.”

So when we find ourselves there, engaged in power struggle, what can we do instead?

Starting by breathing and creating a pause is almost always helpful.

And if in that pause we can manage to access our curiosity about what’s happening in and around us, “hmmm, I wonder…?” we’ve taken another valuable step.

There are also some powerful questions you might try asking yourself and noticing what answers arise from deep inside:

  • What am I feeling and/or needing here?
  • What am I afraid will happen if I don’t ‘win’?
  • What’s the response here that seems most respectful to both myself and the other?
  • If I step away from my own defensiveness, might there be a way for us to come together and co-create an experience here of ‘power with’?

Stepping out of our conditioned impulses to power struggle is a journey for sure. There’s no quick and easy fix here! But whatever you discover in pausing, being curious, and listening for the answers emerging from within you, you’ll at least have given yourself a better chance at not burning bridges and making things worse.

Instead, you’ll have the possibility of building RICH-er relationships – certainly with yourself, and you’ll be clearer about whether the conditions exist for greater intimacy and working with others involved, or if it’s time to take a step back. Either way, you’ll be clearer and more at choice, than your initial knee-jerk responses of being engaged in power struggle would likely have allowed.

I’d love to hear how all this lands for you. Can you see these conditioned patterns of defensiveness and engaging in power struggle showing up in your life? And recognize other moments when you’ve found a way to step away from them with a more respectful response? Might engaging with others intentionally engaged in expanding their capacity to do this support you in your journey?

One way of doing that if you feel drawn, is to join me and others in our community during our daytime, no cost, At Home with Maralyn & Friends call as we gather this Tuesday November 13 on our Maestro line at 1:00 pm ET. If it works for you, I’d love to hear your voice. If you’ve never registered before, click here.

Photo credit …
Respect – https://m.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10153287369352399&id=651852398&set=a.10153080585582399

Nurturing juicy co-creative partnerships
…with ourselves, others & life!