Give Everyone Your Respect Until They Don't Deserve it Anymore

April 10 2024


I still remember when my dad dropped this line on me. I was in high school, maybe 15 or 16, and we were out shopping for a new (used) family car, just him and me. It was early evening. We were pulling into the Volkswagen dealership when he said he’d had a conversation with another pair of parents from my school and wanted to talk to me about it.  

Truthfully, I had not been giving everyone my respect. Specifically, the parents’ daughter Hannah, who was in the grade below me. She’d been texting me a lot, she had a crush, and for whatever reason (I was terrified of girls and worried about all the wrong things) I hadn’t been reciprocating. I’d been giving her the cold shoulder, not because she’d done anything wrong, for she hadn’t in the slightest, but because that was simply how I handled discomfort and fear back then - by ignoring it and everyone involved. (It’s funny, sometimes the things we do or don’t do, simply out of fear, look exactly like meanness when viewed from the outside.) I hadn’t set out to hurt her feelings, but I had. 

I don’t remember exactly what he said before or after, just that he’d heard I had been unkind to this girl, and he expressed his disappointment. Then he said something that has stuck in my mind and heart to this day: 

You should give everyone your respect until they don’t deserve it anymore.

I think respect has two meanings. The first meaning is someone you look up to, someone you aspire to be like someday. The second, and this is the one my dad meant, is simply to treat someone with the dignity of a human being, to treat them how you’d want to be treated. I instantly understood what he was saying: that until proven otherwise, absolutely everyone is worthy of the second kind of respect. Maybe one day, they will show you that they aren’t a good person. Let them. Until then, be kind.

Since then, I’ve tried to live up to those words. I know I haven’t always succeeded. But I don’t turn away from hard conversations (or innocent crushes) anymore. I try to remember that sometimes respect can be as simple as looking someone in the eye or responding to a text. I’ve learned, over time, that the best way to become worthy of the first kind of respect is by practicing the second.