Stop resisting change and treat others with more respect

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

The rate of change in society has gathered pace over recent years. Women and indigenous peoples continue to fight for their rights. Minority groups are now demanding they be treated with the respect they deserve. Thankfully, the message is getting through to most reasonable people. But some diehards still refuse to change the way they treat others. And yet, they’re often the first to cry foul if their rights are challenged.

Adapting to change

Some people have adapted easily to expectations that we respect individual differences.

Perhaps they’ve been on the receiving end of some form of abuse themselves. Or perhaps they feel more empathy for those who’ve been discriminated against. So they try hard to be non-discriminatory towards others.

Change takes time

However, most people need some time to give up their old ways of thinking, and learn new behaviours.

The truth is that everyone holds a few biases against others. So it’s important to know your own biases, and consciously rise above them.

But no matter how well-intentioned you are, you can make mistakes. Then you need to admit your faults, make amends for your thoughtlessness, and commit to doing better in future.

Resistance to change

Some people, however, haven’t coped well with the new expectations for conduct. They’re angry and resentful, and don’t see what’s wrong with the way they act.

In fact, they don’t have much sympathy for the idea of respecting individual differences. And they seem unaware of the need to ensure that everyone is safe from verbal or physical aggression.

Possibly they’re blind to the harm and hurt caused by past and current discrimination or abuse. Maybe they don’t think it’s their problem. Everyone just needs to “toughen up.”

Perhaps they think it’s their right to do what they want, especially in their own families or workplaces.

Whatever the reason, they resist changing, and refuse to treat others with respect.

Blaming the victim

Often these people claim they themselves have been discriminated against. Rather than acknowledging the true victims, they see themselves as the injured parties.

In their eyes, they’re under attack. They feel they’re being unfairly judged for being who they’ve always been.

Unfortunately, the more they feel attacked, the more defensive they become. And their self-focus stops them empathising with anyone else.

In addition, it’s a clever ploy to attack those who’ve been discriminated against. It distracts attention away from their own behaviour, and onto the victims.

This way, they can blame victims for “inviting” abuse, because they were:

Too thin-skinned or sensitive to understand it was “just a joke”

In the wrong place at the wrong time

Acting like they wanted to be treated badly

Provoking the perpetrator, who then lost control

Being different or annoying, or complaining too much

Being trouble-makers and upsetting the status quo

Undermining others’ authority, or not knowing their place…

And so on. The list is endless.

In fact, victims may have been trying to stand up for their rights. But this is seen as provocative and as giving an excuse for retaliation against them.

Victims can then be blamed for bringing unpleasant consequences on themselves.

So what makes it hard for some people to feel empathy and treat others with respect?

Lack of empathy

If you were badly treated when young, you may have a blunted sense of empathy. If nobody showed you empathy, it can be harder for you to show empathy to others.

But this doesn’t apply to everyone. Many people who’ve been treated badly vow never to act the same way to others.

Sometimes people who’ve had a tough childhood become cynical. They don’t see why they should help anyone else.

After all, no-one ever helped them or treated them with respect. So why should they help anyone else, or treat others with respect?

Lack of emotional awareness

This can lead to people becoming bitter. They refuse to acknowledge the hurt they’ve received because of abusive treatment. They may bury their feelings so deep that they’re not even aware of them. Then they also deny the fact that others may have similar feelings of hurt or pain.

In addition, levels of empathy also depend on your genetic makeup. Some people are born with less capacity to feel empathy than others. They’re more self-focussed, and don’t really notice or care about the suffering of others.

And some people have been treated all their lives as if they’re special. They believe their rights and privileges are more important than anyone or anything. So they view others with disdain, and see them as causing their own difficulties.

However, disrespect or discrimination towards others is no longer acceptable. Fewer people nowadays are willing to tolerate such behaviours. They’re more likely to complain or confront those being inappropriate.

Do you treat others with respect?

Where do you stand on these issues? Do you believe in treating others with respect, no matter who they are? Or are you angry at the changing expectations in society? If so, can you pinpoint what makes you feel like this?

Are you stung by accusations that your behaviour is somehow unacceptable? That you don’t treat others with respect.

Perhaps you’re resisting change out of a fear that you’ll lose status, position or privilege of some sort.

Perhaps you do think others are too thin-skinned. They should be able to swallow a few comments made in fun, even if they are a bit derogatory.

And maybe you don’t see why you should have to worry about saying or doing the right thing all the time. Or why you should let others into areas you want kept to a privileged few.

Whatever the reason, sooner or later you’ll need to consider how others feel. And the best way to do that is to imagine being in their position.

Practice walking in their shoes

Have you ever been excluded from a group you wanted to join? A sports team or group of friends you wanted to be part of? Did that make you feel good about yourself? Or did you feel small, unwanted, unimportant?

Now multiply those unpleasant feelings a hundred fold. Imagine hearing insults or derogatory comments day after day, week after week.

Do you really believe that those on the receiving end can flick these aside time and time again? That they don’t feel rejected because they can’t share fully in society?

Why should others suffer because they don’t conform to how others think they should be?

Of course, some determined individuals break through these sorts of barriers. But it’s often at a huge cost to their physical or emotional health. And for every person who succeeds, plenty more find the toll too great.

Imagine how others feel

If you have even a glimmering of empathy for others, try to build on this. Learn to use mindfulness skills to observe others without making any negative judgments. 

Watch and listen to the ways that people talk to each other. Practise noticing other people’s facial expressions in various situations. Notice how people try to hide their distress and pain when they’re criticised or rejected.

Can you tell who’s holding the power. How does the other person act? Do they seem inhibited and nervous? Defiant and angry? Or distressed and tearful?

Try to read those fleeting expressions that people show, before they put on a mask to protect themselves. These expressions reveal their true feelings.

Extend your emotional expression

Can you mimic these expressions with your own facial muscles? Holding the same expression as someone else gives an insight into what they’re feeling.

Extend your ability to identify different emotions. Learn to feel and name them yourself as they arise in your own body.

Then apply this knowledge to the way that you interact yourself with others. And notice your own feelings when you treat others with more respect.

What will your legacy be?

Decide if you want to cause others to feel hurt, shame and rejection. Or if you want to encourage and include others, the way you’d like to be encouraged and included.

What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind you? Imagine your funeral at some time in the future. How do you want to be remembered?

As a diehard who refused to accept others’ strengths and good qualities? Or as someone who rose above their own narrow self-interest. Someone who appreciated others for who and what they are as human beings.

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