How To Be More Respectful To People [Even When You Don’t Like Them]19 min read

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What do the #EndSARS movement and the #BLM (Black Lives Matter) movement have in common? Yes, there were officers killing people. But, what really caused the nationwide riots that followed?

The story of George Floyd – a man whose history was marked by multiple arrests for offences such as drug possession and theft, as well as the presence of fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system at the time of his death. And SARS? A police unit infamous for its track record of targeting, intimidating, extorting, and killing young men under the suspicion of being involved in internet fraud.

While Floyd’s history, or the offenses of some of the young men killed by SARS cannot be ignored, their past actions do not excuse the disregard for human life.

These incident both highlights a fundamental question: is respect contingent upon our approval of an individual? Are we only obligated to respect those we like?

Before we delve deeper, let’s first give a nuanced definition of what respect is.

What Is Respect?

Respect is the recognition of every individual’s inherent worth and dignity, manifested in our thoughts, words, and actions. It encompasses valuing differences, fostering empathy, and upholding the right to self-determination (i.e. the right of individuals to make their own choices and act independently, based on their own understanding, values, and preferences). 

It involves creating space for others to be themselves even if you don’t fancy their choices and actions. For instance, when you respect someone, you don’t shame them for preferring a certain type of music or fashion, because you know you will also feel bad when someone mocks you for your taste in music and fashion, right?

Respect, however, doesn’t mean blind agreement. It is fully compatible with offering constructive feedback and gently correcting someone when needed, as long as it is done with kindness, honesty, and a focus on personal growth rather than personal attacks.

Imagine two friends engaged in a friendly debate. One holds a strong belief in the power of prayer, while the other remains skeptical, seeing it as wishful thinking. Despite their differing views, mutual respect serves as a crucial bridge. Instead of allowing their disagreement to devolve into a fight filled with insults and accusations, their respect enables them to appreciate each other’s perspectives and potentially gain insights. One friend might come to understand the emotional and psychological benefits of prayer, while the other may recognize the importance of taking a proactive and pragmatic approach to problem-solving.

Why Is It Important To Be Respectful?

In a world full of differences, paradoxes, dilemmas, and challenges, respecting each other’s way of life is critical for avoiding conflict, building bridges, improving well-being, and fostering progress. 

Even when we dislike someone, acknowledging their inherent worth and treating them with respect not only fosters a more positive environment for everyone involved but also opens the door to future understanding and potential connection and collaboration.

For instance, there is often tension between Christians and Muslims about what the dictates of God are, but this doesn’t mean Christians and Muslims don’t contribute immensely to the growth of society. Whilst they may not particularly like each other (as some of their practices are contradictory to the other), respect keeps their hands away from each other’s throats. At least, most of the time.

Mutual respect is the foundation for peaceful coexistence and shared prosperity. It is even more crucial when one party has all it takes to undermine, control, exploit, or destroy the other. For example, it requires respect for powerful nations not to invade smaller nations; for employers to treat their employees with dignity and fairness, regardless of their position in the company; or for adults to listen attentively to children, value their opinions, and provide opportunities for them to make choices and participate in decisions that affect their lives. Without respect, Families, Organizations, and Nations come apart!

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What Are The Dangers of Being Disrespectful?

Power fuels temptation, but disrespecting smaller entities (even if they are people you don’t like) backfires. Here’s why:

Disrespect causes individual suffering:

Studies show that experiencing disrespect can trigger a range of emotional responses, such as fear of further mistreatment, anger at the perpetrator, shame for being targeted, and confusion about the situation. It can also lead to feelings of isolation and self-doubt, potentially contributing to depression. The physical effects can be diverse, ranging from sleep disturbances and fatigue to nausea and high blood pressure.

This is why acts such as dissing, trolling, or dragging someone online (with just words) can still have huge impacts on the individual (even on a physical level). Perhaps, there is truth is saying, “Shots were fired”. 

Disrespect triggers backlash and social unrest:

When a powerful person or entity disrespects a smaller person or group, it sows the seeds of resentment. This resentment can grow into confrontations and issues, with protests, strikes, fights, and even rebellions erupting, jeopardising the peace and stability of the larger power. On the international stage, it can invite condemnation. sanctions, boycotts, and worse.

Disrespect leads to unintended consequences:

Just because you’re bigger doesn’t mean you’re invincible. Underestimating a smaller, determined party can lead to costly resistance. Disrespect can also push the smaller party to form alliances with adversaries, creating a more formidable opposition.

Picture disrespect as igniting a small leaf. The concern lies in the fact that the flame has the potential to set ablaze the adjacent leaves, triggering a chain reaction that could lead to a situation where you find yourself fleeing from a raging and rapidly spreading forest fire.

Disrespect erodes trust and collaboration:

Disrespect erodes trust, making it difficult to collaborate on mutually beneficial solutions in the future. And, even trying to enforce obedience through force can be costly, as it diverts resources away from progress into coercion.

Disrespect brings moral & ethical Costs:

Exploitation and disrespect often go hand in hand, leading to human rights violations. In today’s interconnected world, unethical behaviour quickly goes viral, eroding public trust. 

Historically speaking, Empires built on disrespect often crumbled. Modern conflicts rooted in power imbalances showcase the high cost of exploitation.

Remember, with great power comes great responsibility.

Building trust and respect leads to stability, prosperity, and sustainability for all.

How To Be Respectful?

To be respectful, you must learn to see and treat everyone as an end rather than a means. This means, accepting and understanding that humans are not disposable tools, expandable resources, or insentient ladders that you use to achieve your goals, but rather full beings (like yourself) that you must acknowledge and value for their own sake.

Treating others with respect doesn’t mean you can’t disagree with them or ask them to do something for you (if it were so, then it would mean sacrificing perspectives and individuality; and the beauty of collaboration and mutual benefit). Rather, it means acknowledging their agency and autonomy while navigating those disagreements, collaborations, and requests with consideration and integrity.

That said, there are countless ways you can show respect for people daily – from the way you talk to the way you walk. However, I think it is more valuable to learn about some mindsets/principles/approaches (or should I say ideas?) that can help you show respect despite the circumstances you find yourself in. 

Below are some things you can do to be more respectful;

Cultivate Dignity-Centric Thinking:

Forget the grammar, it simply means you should modify your worldview to recognize the inherent worth and dignity in every person, regardless of their circumstances. This approach aligns with philosophies like “Ubuntu” and the “Intrinsic Value Principle,” which emphasise our interconnectedness and fundamental human rights respectively.

For instance, instead of seeing homeless and physically-challenged individuals simply as a social problem, invite yourself to see them as complex individuals with stories and experiences worthy of respect. It means understanding them as people deserving of kindness and compassion.

This shift in perspective can translate into real-life actions. Perhaps it’s acknowledging their discomfort before asking for directions, offering a smile and kind words instead of spitting and looking away, or advocating for policies that address the root causes of their challenges.

Practise Deep Listening and Empathy:

Actively practice deep listening to truly understand, not just respond. This involves cultivating empathy – stepping outside your own experiences to see things from another’s perspective. It requires patience – giving your full attention and suspending judgment as they unfold their story.

Deep listening goes beyond simply hearing words. It involves asking curious questions, encouraging elaboration, and resisting the urge to interrupt or offer unsolicited advice. This is about actively engaging with someone’s full range of emotions, ideas, and experiences. It is about seeking to understand people.

Always Apply the Platinum Rule:

The Golden rule – “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.” – can be limited in application. It is not enough nor always right to treat others as you wish to be treated. Sometimes, people want to be treated differently! And that is where the Platinum rule comes in.

According to the platinum rule, you should “do unto others, wherever possible, as they would want to be done to them”. This means, that even though your preferences are clear and valid, you must see to it that you do not impose it on others or ignore/disregard that of others.

For example, if you are talking with someone who would prefer you don’t call them “Nigger” or “Bitch”, or use profanity around them, then you should do as they say even if you are okay with being addressed that way.

This platinum rule has implications in diverse fields. For instance, in medicine, Person-centred Care (PCC) is often emphasised as it often leads to the best result for the patient. While in Bioethics, the “Respect for Persons Principle” is a major pillar that ensures the safety of individuals. It is important to understand that what is best for someone is often subjective to them, hence the need to respect their choices!

Honour Personal Autonomy and Agency:

Supporting others in making their own choices, even if they differ from yours requires and demonstrates respect – it shows that you value their opinions and choices, even if it may not be what you want for them.

For example, if you’re a guardian, you can show respect to a teenager by encouraging them to pursue their passion, even if it’s not your preferred career path for them. This doesn’t mean you won’t educate them, but that you simply avoid influencing their choices; and encourage and empower them to take ownership of their lives.

Principles like “Right to Self-Determination” and the “Informed Consent Principle” from medical ethics underscore the importance of this.

Advocate for Justice and Inclusivity:

If you can remain silent while someone’s rights are violated, perhaps you haven’t truly grasped the value of respect and how it impacts everyone. True respect is not just about being agreeable, but rather actively nurturing a world where everyone can freely express themselves and live their lives without overstepping their bounds. And, one way to cultivate this proactive approach is by learning to speak up and advocate for those who are marginalized or disadvantaged.

For example, when you see discriminatory practices in your community – for instance, patriarchy or homophobia – speaking up against such unfair treatment of others demonstrates you respect the marginalized individuals. Remember, “respect is reciprocal”!

Principles such as “Social Justice,” which advocates for fair and equitable distribution of resources and opportunities, “Equity,” which ensures everyone has the same starting point to reach their full potential, and the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” which lays out fundamental rights and freedoms for all people, all rest on this proactive approach to respect.

Actively Seek To Understand Diverse Viewpoints, and Embrace Diversity:

Value and learn from the unique perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences of others. By actively seeking out diverse viewpoints and challenging your own biases, you broaden your worldview, increase empathy, and build a foundation for genuine respect. Because when you understand how your actions and words affect others, regardless of their background, you’re naturally inclined to be more considerate and kind.

For example, joining a community project connects you with people from different walks of life and offers insights into their social, economic and environmental concerns. Reading translated literature opens windows into new cultures and challenges your assumptions about the world. Engaging in heartfelt conversations with people with different social, religious, and cultural backgrounds fosters critical thinking and strengthens your ability to see things from new angles.

Investing in understanding diverse viewpoints isn’t just about being open-minded; it’s about enriching your life, cultivating empathy, and building a more respectful and inclusive world for everyone..

If all these sound like too much work, then buckle up, because we are about to talk about how to respect even people you don’t like.

How do you respect someone you don’t like?

It is quite easy to be respectful – kind, compassionate, and fair – to our loved ones even when we disagree because most times we already value their individuality, opinions, and boundaries. However, when we dislike or hate someone, our brain’s threat centre flares up, triggering negative emotions and shutting down empathy circuits. This makes it hard to see anything good in them and even harder to feel good about treating them well. Biases and negative memories add fuel to the fire, making respect feel like a stupid idea. 

However, even when we dislike or hate someone, respect can still surprisingly play a critical role. Respect, even for those we hate, sets the limits of our interactions and safeguards our own well-being.

The more you dislike someone, the more effort you may need to put into respecting them (assuming you can’t simply distance yourself from them). 

Respect isn’t a mere feeling, but a virtue that must be practiced intentionally with different scenarios requiring different degrees of effort.

Imagine two rival chess players. They might despise everything about each other, down to the other’s strategies and moves, but they still respect the game itself and the skill of their opponent. This respect, however twisted, counterintuitive, and under strain, keeps the game going and prevents it from spiralling into chaos.

This too is true for our day-to-day interactions with people who see the world differently and therefore live differently. We may dislike their ideas and attitudes, but we can still respect them (even if it is from a distance).

Needless to say, it is tough to respect people you do not like or even hate. And that is why you must;

Remind Yourself About Basic Human Dignity:

Remember that respect is not just a feeling. It isn’t about liking someone, but acknowledging their inherent worth as a human being deserving of basic rights and dignity.

In simple terms, don’t let your feelings override your judgment. Pause, breathe in, practice respect.

Be Clear and Genuine about Your Feelings (But Not Cruel):

You don’t have to pretend like you like them to respect them. It is good to express your discomfort clearly so they know how their actions are affecting you: You can even say things like “I’m not comfortable with your tone”, “I disagree with your viewpoint.”, or “I’d rather not talk about that”. However, you don’t have to label them as “stupid”, “wicked”, or “infidel”! (I must confess, this is something I’m still working on)

Focus on the behaviour you do not like, not the person. Avoid personal attacks or generalizations. Stick to specific actions or words that bother you at that very instant.

Even if you’re upset, try to avoid sarcasm, insults, or shouting.

Practise Active Listening (Without Judgment):

It’s a good idea to assume that the person you dislike knows something you do not know, or have had an experience you lack. Hence, ask questions and try to understand their perspective as you attentively listen.

Avoid interrupting or dismissing their opinions and feelings. And, even if after all you still disagree, still season your words before responding, or excuse yourself altogether and walk away.

Remember, you can not change someone’s mind. The best you can do is share your views.

Practice Acceptance (of Differences, Not Actions):

Accept that others have different values, opinions, and experiences than you.

Understand that what works for you, or makes you feel good may not be applicable for someone else.

In fact, you have to accept that sometimes, the people you care about will make choices that you will not like, and that might harm them.

Set Boundaries (To Protect Yourself, Not Punish Them):

Remember you are not obligated to accept other people’s harmful behaviours towards you. 

Sometimes you may not be able to maintain respect for some people. In this case, it is expedient to establish strong boundaries

This might involve letting them know what behaviour is unacceptable and what consequences will follow, removing yourself from their presence or lives, or reporting to the right authorities to ensure the other person does not (or stops) overstep(ping) their bounds.

Keep Your Promises/Words (Even if It’s Uncomfortable):

Following through on commitments (perhaps in a professional setting), even if you don’t like them builds trust and shows respect for their time and expectations.

However, if you can’t fulfil a promise, be upfront and honest; and explain why. If possible, offer an alternative.

Also, avoid making promises you can’t keep: Don’t overcommit to avoid future disappointment and resentment.

Acknowledge Their Efforts and Contributions (Even Small Ones):

Remember Ubuntu? We all depend on each other in some way. So, whenever you see something good in someone you don’t like, still show appreciation. A simple “thank you” can go a long way.

Even if you disagree with their views, acknowledge their contributions, expertise or skills. It’s things like these that often inspire the change we want to see.

If They Have Done You Wrong, Forgive Them (For Your Own Peace, Not Necessarily for Them):

Holding onto anger only hurts you. Letting go of resentment frees you from emotional baggage.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting or allowing them to repeat harmful behaviour. It simply allows you to move on without bitterness.

Apologise if You Have Wronged Them (Even if it’s Uncomfortable):

Swallow your ego and take responsibility for your actions. Owning up to your mistakes shows respect for their feelings.

Be sincere and specific. Don’t just say “sorry,” explain what you did wrong and why it was hurtful. And, if there’s a way to make things right, do it.

Beware of Your Own Biases (And Be WIlling to Challenge Them):

Examine your own prejudices and assumptions. Are your feelings based on “what you’ve heard” or personal experiences?

The truth is that people are seldom Angels or Demons. We are all humans – a mixture of good and bad.

Challenge your own biases by reading, listening to, and talking to people with different backgrounds and experiences.

Be open to changing your mind: New information and experiences can lead to new understandings.

Focus on Your Own Behavior (Not Trying to Change Theirs):

You can’t change someone else, but you can control your own reactions and behaviour.

Focus on self-improvement. Work on your own communication skills, emotional intelligence, and conflict resolution skills.

Lead by example. Demonstrate respect and kindness, even if you don’t receive it in return.

Conclusion: Respect Requires Non-attachment.

Respect, like other virtues, can be hard to practise. And, sometimes you will fail.

I recall a moment during the preparations for my Dad’s funeral when my Mom expressed her desire to follow the tradition of staying in the village for a few days. After considering factors such as our relationship with the villagers, the distance, and my mom’s health, we insisted she shouldn’t go. This led to a heated argument that escalated into raising voices (something that had never happened before, ever).

At the time, the gravity of our actions didn’t register. Perhaps the pain of losing our Dad was still too raw. Regardless, our stance led to a disrespectful dismissal of tradition and neglect of Mom’s autonomy. In the end, Mom spent only one night in the village, and we all returned home immediately after the funeral service – a compromised resolution.

A few weeks later, I stumbled upon a podcast where Christal Allen-Harrahill shared how she suffered some disconnects and missed opportunities with her mom during the last days of her life because of a similar clash of opinions. She sobbed as she explained how it was a terrible mistake she still regrets. That podcast reinforced the notion in my mind that imposing my preferences on others is a misguided thing to do. It made me realise that people have the right to make their own choices, even if those decisions differ from what I might want, or even if they may have potentially negative consequences for them.

In the end, respect requires non-attachment: detaching from expectations, judgments, and emotional entanglements, allowing us to honour another’s worth while protecting our own well-being.

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I enjoy writing long-form SEO content for self-help and personal development blogs. I can also do simple graphics design and copywriting. I’m an author, coach, logician, introvert, and storyteller. I love simplicity.

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