The intersection of respect or contempt
A man commented in a recent conversation, “I’ve had three major relationships and each one included a measure of contempt”
“Giving or receiving?” I asked.
“Both,” he replied.
Each year millions of relationships arrive at the intersection of respect or contempt.
The last few years of enforced togetherness have stressed families and businesses to the limit.
It’s becoming clear as we circle the evolving post-covid recovery process that primary relationships have endured much of the stress and the price has been high. Contempt flourishes under stress and it remains a dangerous strategy to flirt with at work or at home.
Relationships generally begin with unicorns, rainbows, and optimism, unfortunately, many end in anger and contempt. To be blunt, humans betray, break agreements, and get on one another’s nerves.
Seeking safety, security, stability and hoping to side-step betrayal, abuse, and heartbreak, we learn to avoid those who fail to follow through and rely on those who do. At home, work or out in the world our opinion/judgment of others plays a role in deciding who to collaborate with, the degree of trust to offer and who we choose to love or scorn.
Respect and contempt span a broad spectrum, a common definition is helpful.
Respect – a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.
Contempt – a feeling that a person or a thing is beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving scorn.
This understanding is linear, logical, and rational. Deciding who to trust based on follow through would be a snap if it weren’t for the human element (emotion) complicating everything.
“It just felt right” or “It just didn’t feel right” is a bit vague. An equal partner in any assessment, emotion requires interpretation. Emotion’s contribution tends to be extremely reliable if we learn to interpret our emotions accurately.
An emotional response is Informed by the past, defined in the present with an eye to the future.
The range between “deep admiration” and “beneath consideration” couldn’t be greater. From the admiration lavished on a public figure displaying the best of human qualities, to the moment romantic infatuation burns off and farting under the blankets is no longer cute.
Whether expressed through full on conflict as witnessed in “War of the Roses,” or passive as a dismissive eye roll, contempt is expressed in a multitude of ways. Passive or aggressive the message is clear “beneath consideration, worthless.” Those we agreed to work for or live out our lives with seldom deserve contempt, no matter the dose.
There exist unfortunate people who have earned a measure of scorn and may even deserve a helping of contempt. They tend to be few and far between and rarely occupy the next office or share the same bed. Although it’s appropriate and often necessary to set boundaries with those who exhibit offensive social hygiene, yet to justify contempt or the harsh judgment of “beneath consideration,” we must suspend empathy and sweep compassion from the table.
Contempt is the absence of connection, empathy, or compassion, and comes at a steep price.
Expensive in that forgiveness, understanding, and connection are replaced with resentment, anger, and fear. We suspend many fine qualities of our humanity when we choose contempt.
Most likely the truly contemptuous have moved on to leave muddy footprints elsewhere. Oblivious or uncaring and seldom even aware they are the object of your contempt; you’re left to pay the bill.
The stakes increase at work or home. Contempt remains the most caustic and damaging element in primary relationships. Little surprise so many arrive at the intersection.
How is it we come to show contempt over respect with those closest to us?
Poor discipline, arrogance, short-tempered, bad habits?
A story of unknown origin offers a hint. At times I’ve heard this story attributed to clans of people in Africa, Australia, and the great plains of north America.
In this village when a member of the clan lies, steals, or commits violence and must be held accountable all the members gather in a large circle with the offender seated in the center. The purpose is not punishment, instead the belief is the individual violated the social covenant because they’d forgotten who they are. The clan’s purpose is to affirm and remind the individual of their value.
If you find yourself at the intersection of respect and contempt, remember who you are.