It has been a year since the pandemic descended on us, upending our lives in so many ways. We also just finished an often disheartening and conflict-filled political season. For many of us this has been a year with emotional bruises, feelings of isolation and emotional abandonment, and ruptured relationships.
Healing the wounds we have experienced and repairing our ruptured relationships will not be a small challenge. They will not heal themselves solely by the passage of time. Ignoring them risks creating scars that will remain forever.
Of course, none of us intended to hurt, ignore, or abandon those around us. Yet, the circumstances we faced, the choices we were forced to make, and the attention we were not always able to give still may have caused damage.
In some circumstances, we know where these bruises and wounds are and who may be experiencing them. We might be among those feeling bruised and wounded. In still other situations, we may be unaware of the hurt and alienation others are feeling.
The crucial question is where to start and what to do to repair the hurt. How can we begin the process of understanding, repairing, and healing?
Fortunately, there is a powerful antidote available to us that does not require special training, additional expense, or permission to employ. The antidote can be found in unconditional and unstrained demonstrations of respect. Let’s explore how we can offer and demonstrate respect that can lead to healing and repair of relationships.
We can start by committing to an attitude and perspective that those around us deserve our respect. We need to trust and assume the positive intentions of others. We also need to take the first step. We cannot afford to wait for others to offer and demonstrate respect to us, even when we believe that most of the fault lies with the other person. If we wait, it may never happen. The respect we project can crack open doors that we thought would always stay shut.
We need to be open and ready to listen. We may hear words that are uncomfortable. We may even disagree, but we need to commit to understanding, not framing a counter narrative or defensive response. Actively listening can lead to important insights and reveal information and perspectives that we would not have known or considered. We can restate, rephrase, and summarize to signal that we hear what the other person is saying. Listening is among the most powerful demonstrations of respect available to us.
We need to empathize. We do not have to agree. Rather we need to seek to understand and appreciate the other person’s perspective, not insert our own. We might apologize if our actions have caused the hurt we are hearing. Or we may simply accept what we are hearing. What is important is to understand as deeply as we are capable.
We may ask questions, but they need to be directed at clarifying, expanding, and exploring rather than accusing, dismissing, or discounting the message. This is not a time to counter or convince through manipulating questions.
When we speak, we need to speak for ourselves. We must avoid making assumptions or assigning motivation to the words and actions of others. “I” statements about how we feel, what we understand, and what we need can keep us from further complicating, confusing, and escalating the situation.
In the end, we may need to agree to disagree, but we do not have to be disagreeable. We do not have to achieve full agreement or absolute consensus on every element and detail of the situation. However, we do need to commit to move forward and continue to connect and communicate. Equally important, if we make a commitment we must be certain to follow through. Failing to be dependable and accountable risks making the situation worse than when we began the process.
It is not always easy to give respect. At times we may need to focus our respect on the person, even when we do not approve of their opinions or behavior. We do not have to become close friends but working together productively and maintaining relationships almost always requires the presence of respect.