I believe that all humans have inherent worth and dignity. But, we live in a world where honoring others is not always a given, and in many case we have to actively earn (ask for) respect from those around us.
Respect is about the truth and setting boundaries. We can't earn respect from others until we respect ourselves. In fact, it is only through respecting ourselves (our needs and our truths) that we can interact respectfully with others. Honoring others doesn't mean making them happy all the time. And, honoring yourself can be the most challenging or "hardest" thing we have to practice.
I have been working very closely with boundary setting and self respect as a means for healing my low back-- believe it or not. The psychology behind the way I hold the musculature of my low back and hips comes directly from my feelings of powerlessness, victimhood and general overwhelm. In other words, when I feel crummy emotionally, my body holds in a way that produces injury (chronic pain). It's not quite that much of a 1:1 ration, but it is pretty darn close in my experience.
So, I had to do a lot of remedial work in order to practice respecting myself.
1. First I had to ask myself what it was that I needed. I had gotten so accustomed to just doing what I "had to" that I had completely unlearned this skill of tapping into my own needs. when I first started doing this, I couldn't even determine if I was hungry, or tired, or sad, or all three. But, I had to figure it out before I could move farther.
2. So, when I figured out what I needed (wanted) I had to own my truth. This step is just as hard for me as the last. I had to practice owning what I was feeling. If I was sad, I had to own that I was sad. If I was overwhelmed, frustrated, angry, hungry, tired, irritated, or feeling belittled, disrespected, ignored, forgotten, overlooked, unimportant, I had to own it. This part is tough.
3. But once I owned the heart of the issue, I was able to then make an informed decision of my next steps. If I was tired I could choose to sleep, or to push through (knowing I was tired). If I was feeling overlooked, I could speak up (or let it go if it wasn't worth it to me). When I knew my own truth, I was able to work with it.
4. The hard line. The thing about boundaries is that they must be reinforced continually and without exception if they are going to stand strong. I am not very good at this. I love to live in the grey area between black and white, but I don't like when that gets me into sticky situations with others (or myself). But, as I practice owning my truth, I am gaining more and more clarity which leads to easier and more consistent problem solving.
5. Asking for what I need. In order for me to earn the respect of others, I am finding that I need to practice speaking my truth and actually ask for what I need (without the attachment of getting it). This is so awkward for me. It is hard for so many of us who don't want to rock the boat or stir up trouble (more than we do already). But, if I don't ask for what I need, then I have let myself down. I have crashed self respect at the last possible moment. Following through in my behavior is essential for long term change.
Now, I want to be super clear that there are times when I work through all of this and end up doing nothing. Sometimes, I am just too tired, and I choose to not follow through. But, that is the practice. And, with practice is gets easier. I didn't say it gets perfect!
So, now that I have been doing my best to honor my own self respect and am feeling a little more comfortable, I see others suffering from the same conditions and it makes me so sad for them! People are so wonderful and so kind and so generous that they are willing to sacrifice their well being (self respect and sometime health) for the sake of others' needs and demands. From the outside is looks crazy-- how can anyone not draw the hard line?!? But, I know how hard it is from the inside. We are torn between our need for self respect and our need for approval from others, or the fear of being out of control, or the need to keep the peace, or whatever our external goal is.
But, the key point to remember is that we can only honor others by moving from a place of self respect and clarity. And, when we invest in our sense of self, we likely gain strength and energy to do more for those around us. I know it sounds all New Age, but it is my personal experience. And, if it sounds too good to be true, remember that what I am proposing is actually HARD work! It means we have to ask at every turn what is best for ourselves and for others. It might mean a 180 degree shift in our values or actions. It likely means a lot of habit breaking.
But, we all have the inherent worth and dignity, Buddhists call it Buddha nature, that is at the very core of our being should we choose to excavate it and put it to use. It's not selfish, it is moving from love and compassion. It is modeling through our own process how we want others to come to us.
This is one way we can actually make the world a better place.