Stop Telling People They Have To Earn Respect

I get so tired of hearing statements like, “You gotta earn my respect”, “They need to prove themselves”, and “She didn’t even earn her spot”. It’s time for a newsflash. You need to stop telling people they have to earn respect from you.

Respect my authoritay!

Respect isn’t earned; it’s given. You choose who you trust and respect on a variety of (often arbitrary) factors. For most people this includes…

  • How well you know the person;
  • Your friends’ opinions of the person;
  • Your preconceived notions of their status, race, gender, etc.;
  • Their association with respected or trusted people and organizations;
  • Their previous accomplishments, failures, and experiences; and
  • Your natural propensity to trust.

In a recent study at the Kellogg School of Management, volunteers played a game where they determined how much money to send to anonymous people. The money would be tripled in transit, and the anonymous recipient could choose to send back as much of the extra money as they want–from nothing to all the extra money. Volunteers who were shown a name of a trusted person (via an unnoticeably short subliminal message) sent more money and were often more likely to believe that the recipient would send some back. Conversely, volunteers who were shown a name of an individual they did not find respectable or trustworthy sent less money and were less likely to believe that they would receive any money in return. Just the brief association of a familiar name was enough to skew the volunteers’ behavior.

Most of the reasons that you trust or respect someone are arbitrary, and even when those reasons are legitimate, they are still based on your past experiences and are not always a good indicator of the future. I’m not suggesting that you should automatically trust everyone without concern for your own safety; but unless your well-being is at risk, I challenge you to give out as much trust and respect as possible.

When you choose to respect another person, you are opening the door for them to respect you in return. You are conveying the message that, regardless of their past, they are a valued person, and you are willing to give them an opportunity to shine. How does it feel when someone chooses to actively disrespect or distrust you? In my experience, it starts a very negative cycle of emotions and actions–all of which can be avoided. It’s up to you.

In college marching bands and concert bands there is often a strict hierarchy of respect based on a mixture of seniority, talent, and reputation. The “average” Freshman is plunged into a social structure where they are not valued as they have not accumulated the necessary seniority or developed their talent enough to garner the respect of their peer group. Feelings of inadequacy are mixed with the desire to “prove” oneself to the group. Over the next few years, these people struggle to move up the band’s social hierarchy until they are either outcast from the group, choose to leave the group of their own volition, or finally feel like they “made it”. Of course, as a reader of this blog, you are likely very familiar with this phenomenon. Each time we decide that someone has to earn our respect or earn their place in our band, we are actively propagating this negative cycle.

Are you going to choose to continue the false belief that your respect must be earned? Or are you going to actively choose to value others for their potential? …for their inherent worth as an individual? …and for the positive impact they can make on you and your band?

Be brave! Respecting and trusting others can be a difficult endeavor because it makes us vulnerable. However, I can say with certainty that you have much more to gain than to lose. Welcome those who are new to your group. Give them meaningful work to do in your band. Help them surpass their own limits. When they fall, pick them back up. Treat them as an equal. Give respect and you will get respect.