But of course, no one literally asks for praise.
“Hey you…praise me!”
But we often seek praise — sometimes in well-meant but misguided ways. Chances are, I’ll hazard to bet, that when you ask your partner to respect you more, what you are most immediately wanting is praise, not respect.
I’m not knocking praise. Praise feels good when it’s lovingly delivered.
Praise is a simple expression of approval or admiration. Praise satisfies, but it doesn’t nourish. It’s an appetizer, not an entree. It quenches appetite, but fails to create an experience within you that endures.
The notion of respect is one of the most important, if not most misunderstood, relationship practices. So what actually happens when you truly, authentically respect someone?
You see them for a second time.
Respect, translated from its Latin roots, means “to see again, to look back” (Re-spect = Re-see). To respect someone then, is to look back at them again — with the implication that something of precious value will be seen the second time.
What happened the first time?
Your vision missed the mark.
Because the way you looked at them the first time failed to create resonance between you and that person. Or, what you saw the first time was not enough of them and a little too much of what you wanted to see.
Respect is first a sacred attitude, then an offering.
Now, true respect is not merely transactional, like I compliment you and you say thank-you. That’s nice and important but true respect is much too large for mere transaction.
Respect is a sacred attitude.
What I see the second time is the brilliance of that star-encrusted diamond within you, that divine spark shimmering through the darkness that birthed the big cosmos as much as it birthed little you. If I’m truly respecting you, I’m looking through the dense forest of your many roles, personas, attachments, addictions, achievements, promotions, failures, habits, ticks and crafty defense mechanisms to the clearing in your forest’s middle — where I see the diamond within you.
The immortal diamond.
The immortal diamond is the part of you that is simple and innocent. Simply innocent. This simple innocence has yearning to love and to be loved. It tends to reveal itself in moments of curiosity, play, deep belly laughter, and suffering. And it recognizes itself in others.
Have you ever shared a deep belly laughter with your partner or friend? For those moments it’s as if all else fades and you see in the other their distinct, unique markings of immortal diamond: the way laughing etches veins in a distinctive pattern in their foreheads and temples, the dancing of eyebrows, the mouth wide open, the teeth jutting out like a blue whale catching krill. In these moments, you’re swallowing life whole.
This diamond is the immortal diamond poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote about in this poem, the everlasting part of your being that persists no matter your doings, no matter your age, no matter no matter no matter. Though all matter around you is the heraclitean fire — continually and endlessly coming together and falling apart — the immortal diamond persists.
This diamond is what Thomas Merton called the “pure diamond,” a “point of nothingness…inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will.” And he wished, as I do (and I imagine you do, too), that if we could all just for a moment see that we are all a zillion points of light crystallized in a moment of time, sparkling at one another for the sake of sparkling, then we will put aside what we foolishly allow to divide us.
This diamond is what the great novelist, Zora Neale Hurston, wrote of in Their Eyes Were Watching God, through her heroic character, Janie, who after enduring years of strife and servitude, discovers that true freedom is in the realization of the eternal flickering within:
“She had found a jewel down inside herself and she had wanted to walk where people could see her and gleam it around. But she had been set in the market-place to sell. Been set for still-bait. When God had made The Man, he made him out of stuff that sung all the time and glittered all over. Then after that some angels got jealous and chipped him into millions of pieces, but still he glittered and hummed. So they beat him down to nothing but sparks but each little spark had a shine and a song. So they covered each one over with mud. And the lonesomeness in the sparks make them hunt for one another, but the mud is deaf and dumb. Like all the other tumbling mud-balls, Janie had tried to show her shine. (9.4)”
So…how do you respect your partner?
Like a powerwasher.
Wash away the mud and see — -no, BEHOLD, the sparkle beneath.
Guess how they will feel when they are on the receiving end of such seeing?
Respected. They’ll feel re-seen. And so grateful that you made the effort to re-see them.
Granted, for some, being seen or re-seen is risky. It may make them feel vulnerable which they may associate with danger if their vulnerability has been bruised before. Some folks, thus, prefer praise over genuine respect because praise doesn’t require vulnerability.
Now…there’s a catch. You can’t just dispense respect like throwing beads from a Mardi Gras float.
Here’s the Catch: It Takes Two.
In truly respecting you, I must look at you from my own place of vulnerability. I must find my own clearing in the forest and look at you from there. The diamond within me meets the diamond within you, which means I have to get distance from my own nagging hang-ups and needs, if only for a moment, to see you. Pierre de Chardin called this “love energy,” the ubiquitous God-soaked force that created the cosmos, permeates EVERYTHING and fuels attraction of all life for LIFE, itself: the lizard for the sun-baked stone, the star for its planetary partner, and your finger swiping left or right across the tiny screen. All are expressions of love energy seeking to connect and evolve.
Respect is simply love energy finding its way through the mud.
True respect, you see, is never something that I can give you but rather a gift we both participate in. It is a quicksilver moment of whoa this is really nicelike when a butterfly momentarily lands on your knee. You freeze. Time stops. The awe you feel for its delicate hues of orange and yellow swells within your held breath until it flies away and you watch it and say whoa that was really nice.
And it is risky for, in respecting you, I may discover how estranged from myself I’ve actually been.
When Pierre de Chardin said, “We are not human beings trying to be spiritual. We are spiritual beings trying to be human,” I think he was suggesting that our greatest task as lovers, friends and citizens is to uncover the pearl of divinity that is within all of us. Our spirit “selves,” if you will, know how to connect with each other if we just give them the chance. Human egos can be such a disadvantage, even if they are necessary. After all, the butterfly, the tree, the golden retriever needs only to see once to look upon something untouched by ego. It’s soooo hard for us silly humans!
Still…we must see and must see again, if we are to connect deeply and meaningfully with our life and with our lovers.