How Can I Respect Irritating, Cruel, Manipulative, or Offensive People?

Mean and angry

This article is an attempt to answer the question above that I got from a brilliant reader and conversationalist (thank you Max) about respect.

Respect (of oneself, others, and life) is the ideal that I aspire to. And I profess: I’m far from getting there.

An ideal can be a double-edged sword. On one end, it can serve as an instrument of growth and awareness by reminding us of the possibility of doing things differently. But it can also be a punitive weapon, if we don’t live up to it.

I prefer to use ideals as a reminder of what could be, when we transcend our limitations and embrace our humanity a little bit more.

So back to the question.

How can I respect offensive people?

We all face challenging people and situations—an unappreciative boss, a backstabbing coworker, a harsh parent, or a random act of road rage or rudeness.

I’d like to start with a few thoughts about human behavior and tendencies. While they may not help in respecting someone right away, they may motivate us to consider another approach.

Self-reflection: looking within as a way of understanding others

Think of the following two questions.

How do you feel about yourself when you act angrily, or disrespectfully?

How do you feel about your reaction to a disrespectful person

If you answer honestly, you’ll have thoughts that either:

  • Judge your actions/reactions (i.e. yourself), or
  • Justify your actions by judging another person or situation.

Both scenarios feed the same feelings of negativity. You either keep beating yourself up, or you continue to blame outside influences.

If you tell me you never acted disrespectfully or never reacted negatively to a disrespectful person, you either don’t remember, or as my friend Max put it: you’re a saint.

Looking within is an excellent practice that shows us first hand how we perceive others’ actions, attitudes, or words.

Usually our reaction to others mirrors our inner thoughts about ourselves and then others.

Human complexity

No one is just what we see in them. Meaning: not a single person out there is just an absolute jerk. We might see that side of him or her, but that’s just one side.

There is a depth within us that holds our dreams and aspirations, pain and suffering, joy and fear, and the mystery of the universe.

We truly can’t know everything about ourselves, let alone another human being.

Remembering that the behavior we’re seeing is not the full picture might ease up our reactionary impulses.

Personal perspective

There are as many perspectives and ways of seeing things as there are human beings. No two people will see or experience the same thing exactly.

What we might perceive as annoying or insulting, from our perspective, might not be that bad to someone else.

It might be helpful to take a step back and see the situation from a different angle.

Expectations and control

Let’s face it, when we say someone is annoying, it’s because we have an expectation of what we think is okay and what we deem as annoying.

There are of course common social conventions and customs. No one likes to be lied to, manipulated, or disrespected.

But did our expectations and social convention ever stop someone from doing all of the above and more?

We can try to control others’ actions based on our expectations, but reality dictates otherwise. People will do what they want, not what we want them to do.

We can judge a person or withhold our respect, but that won’t change a thing. It might feed the same behavior that we find objectionable.

And I’ll just clarify one point here as well. Acts of a criminal nature have consequences that the legal system will deal with. Justice is not served by condemning actions and disrespecting people.

As for acts of unkindness that go unpunished, I always try to remind myself of this:

Acting like a jerk is hard work that depletes the heart and soul. I have yet to see a genuinely happy or contented cruel person.

Letting go is the smartest choice

You may not agree with me and ask: how can I let someone disrespect me or abuse me? How can I reward someone who disrespects me by respecting them and letting go of my grievances?

If we disrespect someone, is that going to make us feel more respected or empowered?

You can add more objections and more actions, but it all boils down to answering these two questions truthfully:

  • What do we gain by disrespecting someone?
  • What do we gain by letting go?

I can’t say for sure what we gain by disrespecting, or withholding our respect. But I can tell you for sure we gain the most valuable thing in the world when we let go—freedom.

We free ourselves from the tyranny of expectations, reactions, and judgment.

Letting go doesn’t mean we turn into doormats. On the contrary, we express our opinion (if we need to) from a calmer place. You can respectfully disagree, or bring up an issue with someone. Or simply walk away.

Respect doesn’t mean condoning bad behavior either. It means we’re willing to see beyond the act in a way that doesn’t create more conflict and suffering.

We have dehumanized each other long enough. We need human rights advocates to remind us of what we all know too well—treat others like you’d like to be treated.

Keeping the above points in mind might help in dealing with challenging situations with a little bit more understanding.

What can I do when confronted with an annoying (or any other adjective) person?

We may not have the time to think logically before we jump into reaction.

The best thing to do is to practice these simple steps as much as you can.

1- Notice the feelings that come up when someone annoys you. Allow the emotions to course through your body before you react.

2- Ask: Can I let this go? Or does it warrant a response? Would I care 10 minutes from now about what happened?

3- Act if you need to. You can calmly tell someone that you don’t appreciate how they’re talking to you. You can walk away, or you can tell the person you do not wish to deal with them at this point.

4- Remember that we’re all human and each one of us acts from their current level of awareness. In other words, we don’t know any better at this point in our journey. And that’s not an excuse but a reality check.

5- Let go of the situation and remind yourself of the things that truly matter. When you do, you’ll refocus your energy and attention and won’t allow an incident to ruin your day. And if that’s not enough, remind yourself of the sweet taste of freedom.

If you react negatively, let go of judging yourself as well. Nothing is gained by disrespecting yourself.

All we need is to pause for a second and listen to the inner gentle voice—not the loud rash and reactive ego that instantly pops up.

Every situation is an opportunity to do things differently. We might think we can’t change and we have to react to other people’s disrespect with more of the same—judgment and disrespect.

But we all have within us the power to choose a kinder path (with ourselves and others) that will ultimately lead us to inner freedom.

Our evolutionary path lies between our current reality and an ideal world of respect and understanding. Every little step we take brings us closer to transforming this ideal into a new reality.

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