In the year 2002, I was one of the facilitators to roll out ‘Managing with Respect’ in my organisation. It was an interesting experience for me to see how skills for Managing with respect were developed along with strong accountability in my ex-organisation.
Our statement was, “Managing with Respect” is the way Colgate-Palmolive people put the Company Values into action.
It is creating an environment where people feel free to offer suggestions, contribute ideas and make contributions to the organization.
“Managing with Respect” creates an environment where people genuinely care about each other and work well together to reach their full potential.
The “Managing with Respect” principles are:
- Communicate Effectively
- Give and Seek Feedback
- Value Unique Contributions
- Promote Teamwork
- Set the Example
This was 20 years ago. As I continued this work outside of Colgate, I realised that Respect can be an intriguing value, as it can be defined both conditionally and unconditionally depending on where you come from?
To give an example of unconditional respect, In my religion and culture respect to any life form/ non-live form is a part of cultural narrative and beingness. It is a core ideology that most kids are brought up with. My grandmother often asked me to ask for forgiveness from a book if I accidentally stepped on it, she would pray to a stone that she would have picked from a river bed, saying it has seen more waves than the living beings and thus it had the eye of God, and power to impart knowledge that didn’t exist in other life forms. She would often tell me to ask permission and forgiveness from the river before I stepped in it. There was always something/ someone that told me that everything needed respect and that it was a given.
As I was growing up I also learnt about casteism and classism in my culture and how I shouldn’t mingle with people from lower castes or class, this was more implicit than explicit. Nobody said it explicitly, but it was implied in behaviours that I saw. And this narrative sat right opposite the narrative of respect for all living beings and it created a direct in-congruency in my mind where; I then had to figure out- what was my path ,what was my choice? My path was enlightened by experiences of my marginalised identities, being a girl from Uttar Pradesh in India, where patriarchy and misogyny are part of culture and rape culture is rampant, being a child of a single widowed mother, and my struggle with my need to be respected inspite of where my marginalised identity positioned me. All of my lived experiences were guiding me to choose, respect for all. However, I still make mistakes and ask for forgiveness. I soon started to realise that respect is also very conditional and, that in society, I needed to be somewhere-someplace-someone to get respect. Respect wasn’t the same for everyone, there was no equality there. People from historically marginalised identities and women had to work harder for that respect, which was easily available to High caste or White men. This was intriguing for me, as I could see the dichotomy that exists in our societal constructs, where ‘Respect for all’ can get boxed as spiritual or religious or humanitarian construct. Where as ‘Earn respect’ becomes a convenient societal construct for systems of oppression to continue. This very conveniently separates the soul of the society from the society itself. This renders the value of ‘Respect’ a level of complexity that then is put up for debate, who can be Respected and who can’t, similar to who can be Trusted, who can’t, giving into our cultural and societal narratives and conditioning.
Thus, ‘Respect’ can be different in theory and in practice, depending on where you sit in your position of power, privilege, rank, race and gender, and how you interpret your life experiences. It is very much influenced by ‘Where you come from? if you try and become aware of your power and privilege in this moment and then reflect ; Does respecting someone for you come with conditions, like: I want more proof, I want more data, to be able to respect someone? and more importantly, does this need for proof seeking become more when you are interacting with historically marginalised identities? Ask yourself ‘If a white man of privilege presented the exact same thing that a woman of color is presenting, would my questions change? and if the answer is a yes! (only you would know this), then you are definitely experiencing a severe case of ‘ism’. Yes, a ‘ism’, it could be racism, sexism, casteism etc. There is no cure for a severe case of ‘ism’ until and unless you become aware of your biases and learn to dis-entangle yourself from the narratives that are weaved into your conditioned ways of being. Remember that there is a difference in behaviours for growth mindset and curiosity and they are very different from challenging for proof of worth. Remember your intent to create the impact you wish to have.
So when looking at ‘Respect’ as a value, use these 5 questions to unpack what Respect means for you.
- Where do you come from? (This includes your social group identity)
- What dynamics of power did you observe growing up? Who had more respect?
- What patterns did you develop in your behaviour to get that respect?
- How and who got your respect and who didn’t get your respect?
- What patterns of that conditioning still play out in your life and work?
These questions will help you get a balcony view of what respect as a value means to you and the trappings of it, only then you can start working on -What impact do you want to create in the world and what role does ‘Respect’ as a value play in your vision. Principles and behaviours to anchor the value will flow naturally when the blocks are cleared, and the value of ‘Respect’ will energise your organisation and establish a healthy and positive culture.