Really appreciate your column of Dec. 4 (tinyurl.com/m4sjxoj) … up until the final line, where respect is associated with having high expectations of others. If you respect them, you will have no expectations of them. Respect isn’t about imposing or judging. Those things are the opposite of respect. Respect is about honoring, listening, being open to who the person is right now. Expectations are a form of soft cruelty. They limit the person’s right to wake up as any form of person they choose. They chain a person to other peoples’ “expectations.” True respect is a form of love, of appreciation.
— S.L., Hilo, Hawaii
Thank you, S.L. I’m grateful whenever a reader takes the time to weigh in. That’s what this column is for: dialogue. I think engaging dialogue is a vital part of the work of being human.
It makes both of us more. I appreciate you taking the time.
Furthermore, I think your argument is largely in the mainstream. I’m saying you have a lot of company on this one. Expectations are the opposite of respect. They represent cruelty, albeit a “soft” cruelty. But cruelty, nonetheless. If I respect you, I will have no (I assume you mean the null set of) expectations of you. Instead, if I do respect you, I will honor you, listen to you and be open to who you are right now. To do anything less will be to violate your rights, which apparently, include the right to wake up as any form of person you choose.
If I deploy a respect thus defined, I will be loving you. Appreciating you.
Do I get it?
I’m not sure it’s possible to overstate the extent of how much we’re about to disagree. In fact, to say “we disagree” would be clumsy irony. Both our world view and our conclusions are better described as “in diametrical opposition.” It’s like we’re two different life forms.
It’s like being in a James Cameron movie.
Saying that, I have no intent to ridicule you. Nor did I in any way feel demeaned or ridiculed by your letter. I mean only to be nakedly objective: Wow, we see this in polar opposites.
I want to share something personal with you, S.L. If ever I say to you, “That’s OK, S.L., we’re good, I don’t have any expectations of you,” it will not be a compliment. I promise it will not land on your heart as love. Nor will you experience those words from my mouth as honor or appreciation. And it’s not because I will have an angry face. Or because my voice will raise or my tone become scornful. No; in the rare times I’ve felt compelled to say those words, my countenance is “professional/polite.” Matter-of-fact and objective. I might even punctuate the words with a nod and a smile. But, somewhere inside of you, your psychic thermometer will dip. You’ll feel it.
If it means anything, I won’t enjoy saying it, either.
Think with me, S.L., about why this is the case. What could it mean for me to say those words except that I’ve given up on you?
S.L., you don’t have the right to “wake up as any form of human you choose.” What you have is the freedom. Two very different things.
S.L., there is no meaningful definition of love that does not include accountability. And accountability presupposes healthy boundaries. And boundaries are another way of talking about expectations.
Married people don’t hope their beloved is faithful. They expect their beloved to be faithful.
Because that’s what their beloved said would be the case. Children don’t hope for parents not to degrade them, hit them or have sex with them. They expect parents not to do those things. And they have every right to expect such boundaries to be observed in love, honor and respect.
I have an expectation that, should my 11-year-old offend you on the playground today, you will not resolve your differences with my boy by shooting him. And I don’t give a damn what sort of person the shooter woke up as this morning.
Don’t you see how desperately you’re overstating your case, S.L.? Withdrawing all expectations from those we purport to love abandons those same people. It is dishonorable.
Unappreciative. Disrespectful. A form of cruelty not soft but hard and terribly cruel.
If you and I ever meet for a beer to consider friendship, I promise I will never treat you that way. I will instead look for the best of you. Hope for the best of you. Advocate always and only for the best of you. In service to these aims, I will, when necessary, call your attention to that which is not the best of you. To that which is beneath you. Ways in which you rob yourself of joy and freedom to be all that you are. Or ways in which you are conscripting the rights, liberties or honor of those around you.
I hope you will do the same for me.
Do you feel the respect I have for you in this? I’m pushing you because I respect you. And I respect you because I have high expectations for you.
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). His columns also appear on Sundays in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at 702-227-4165 or firstname.lastname@example.org.