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Empathy Cafe: Exploring the relationship between Empathy, Disrespect & Respect

Join Edwin Rutsch, Vicki Lapp and others for our empathy circle. 

In this gathering, we will practice  empathic listening and will be exploring the relationship between Empathy, Disrespect & Respect. Bring your insights about this topic.

This a free event. Please consider purchasing some food or beverage from the venue to support them in offering the space.

I'd like to give you a bit of a preview of what we'll be covering.  The inspiration and resource material we'll be jumping off from is the book, "Boundaries in Dating", chapter titled, "Say No to Disrespect". I've studied from this book off and on for something like 10 years and I continue to learn from it.  The material covered is relevant to relationships that are not dating relationships; I imagine that everyone will get something out of it.  And although the authors have a religious background that you may or may not agree with, we will be skipping the religious references  in our overview of the material.  We will not be able to read the entire chapter in one evening and also have time for sharing, so we'll read from selected passages, and then form empathy circles for each person to express what is alive for them in hearing the content, or whatever else relates to the topic.

It is not necessary to read the below synopsis of the chapter before coming, but it may be helpful to start digesting the content.

Highlights of the Chapter, "Say No to Disrespect"

What is respect?

-Empathy is the ability to feel another's experience, especially painful ones.   Respect is the ability to value another's experience. Relationships develop best when both empathy and respect are in place.

-Respect has to do with being treated as you would like to be treated, things like: your opinion is heard and valued; your differences and disagreeing are validated; your choices are esteemed, even the regretful ones; your feelings are regarded; when you act in a hurtful or insensitive way, you are confronted respectfully, not talked down to nor babied.

How Disrespect Happens

-Disrespect may come out in several ways, and it may involve some violation of freedom: dominating, withdrawal, manipulating, direct violation, minimizing, rationalizing. (book goes into examples of these)

-Respecting someone doesn't mean that you agree with them or comply with what they want. It does mean that their feelings matter because those emotions belong to a person who matters.

The Progression of Disrespect

-We aren't born respecting others.  We begin life highly concerned with our own lives and hardly aware of the needs of others.  As we mature, we learn that the needs and feelings of others are important.

-Disrespect has self-centeredness at its core. This is a character issue, and characters develop.

What Does Not Cure Disrespect

-Ending the Relationship Immediately: So many people who have difficulty setting limits will simply walk away from the relationship when they encournter disrespect. They terminate things, citing that they won't put up with disrespect anymore.  This is a sad and unhelpful way to solve the problem.  There is much you can do before having to end things.  You can learn to solve problems while in the relationship rather than ending the relationship when you experience problems.

-Compliance: while compliance may seem to calm down the battle, it cannot win the war.  Compliance creates the illusion that disrespect has no consequences.

-Retaliation: ultimately this is ineffective

-Complaining wthout Consequences. Also called nagging.

What Does Cure Disrespect

-Don't wait to Deal with it: Disrespect is a character problem that does not simply resolve over time.  It needs interventions of truth and grace to work out. The longer you wait to address disrespect, the more you can expect it.

-Say No: a respectful person will listen, negotiate, and come to some sort of mutual compromise.  A disrespecter will find some way to change the no to a yes.

-Address  the Disrespect as a Problem: Some people disrespect out of ignorance. They dominate because no one has set enough limits with them .  If you address your feelings to the ignorant person, he will most likely want to change because he is invested in the relationship, not in controlling you.  However, some people disrespect because they care more about themselves than they do the relationship.  When you bring your feelings to them, they are likely to rationalize, deny, or blame-- anything but change.  This is a major red flag.

-Clarify: Be clear and specific about several aspects of the problem. 1. What bothers you about the problem (example: You dismissed my opinions when we talked about an issue.). 2. What feelings it brings up in you (Example: I felt hurt and frustrated). 3. How you would like to be treated (Example: Give us both equal time and respect when we discuss a topic). 4. What you will do if things do not change (Example: I will probably not see you for a while, until you are able to see that this is a severe problem).  (VL's note: looks a bit like NVC's model of Observation-Feeling-Need-Request, with the need of respect implied, and consequences added.)

-Bring Others In: Don't do this alone. Get support, feedback and reality testing from safe friends. Disrespect can evoke childlike parts of our nature which long to please hurtful people in order to get their love.  If we have childhood hurts in which we attempted to repair distant or critical parents, we are at risk of being trapped by disrespect.  Being around healthy people can help you be free to address the problem.

-Own Your Own Part:  Your part may be: 1. Not saying anything, which can imply consent, 2., Treating it lightly or as something cute or funny in the other person, 3. Vacillating between doing nothing and having rage fits about it, which conveys a confusing message, 4. Making it all your fault and problem instead of the other person's. Take ownership of the issue.  Change what you need to change.  But require the other person to treat you respectfully.  In the authors' experience, when you do this, one of two things tend to happen: you get more respect from those who have it to give, and you get left by those who don't have it.  Both results are good ones.

The book also offers some interesting stories that bring all of this alive. 

I'm excited to share this topic with you all.  Thanks for your interest!


For more information about the circle and Edwin's work, see:

More on Empathic Design (human-centered design) 
Stanford Design School 

We meet every week on Mondays, alternating between Berkeley and Oakland locations.  

Join or login to comment.

  • Melissa F.

    Well organized, rich topic, really deep empathy expressed

    June 6, 2014

  • calvin

    Absolutely wonderful. I could not have asked for more.

    June 4, 2014

  • larens i.

    I think I left my stainless steel thermos on the table when I left. Did anyone notice it or take it home? The employees at Au Coquelet says it was not in the Lost and Found, but I do not trust them and their clients to even maintain a responsible Lost and Found. Previously I had a nice umbrella quickly disappear when I left it out of sight.

    June 4, 2014

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