Psychotherapist David Richo states, “True love makes everyone irresistible.” At first read, this sounds like nirvana to me. And, then, I remember all the times I have gotten hurt by naively loving. I struggled with this paradox—I wish to love everyone, and it doesn’t feel safe to blindly trust everyone—until I realized the distinction between honoring and respecting. Although often used as synonyms, there is great difference between the two terms.
Honoring someone is to acknowledge their infinite worth—what is innate, common, and unique in each person. Honoring is a manifestation of Love. I aspire to honor everyone (including myself), every moment, without any reservations. In contrast, respecting is based on someone’s behaviors earning my trust—it is conditional, domain-specific, and subject to change. Respecting is informed by Fear asking, “Is it a good idea to trust this person in this way at this time?”
To honor everyone, every moment, without any reservations—to love unconditionally, fully, recklessly—requires that we have the agency to do so. It requires that our needs (for safety, belonging, and fulfillment) have been adequately met and we trust that they will continue to be so. Getting our needs met requires that we know who to trust with what. We can only love unconditionally, fully, and recklessly when we are careful, even cautious, with our respect.
Often, we categorize people as respectable or unrespectable. This dualistic simplification obscures that all of us are trustworthy or untrustworthy in some ways and some of the time. None of us are reducible to our best or worst acts. However, our strong cognitive bias, the halo effect, causes us to generalize from one trait to others, and group people as respectable or unrespectable. For example, I appraise myself as largely trustworthy in my self-awareness. I have invested a lot of time, tears, and effort into knowing myself—as is everyone else, I am a work in progress, but I trust that if I feel fearful or jealous or insecure, these are important signals from my inner self—and deserving of respect, compassion, and investigation. Similarly, if I feel safe, joyful, and content, these are feelings to savor and investigate so that I can identify similar additional opportunities to enhance my wellbeing. I respect my self-knowledge, and trust my body to provide me with important clues about my current functioning. But, my respectable self-awareness does not mean that I would be a trustworthy semi-trailer truck driver. We have a trailer for our raft. I have, when unable to avoid the situation, needed to back up the van with the trailer attached. My unskilled attempts have greatly increased my respect for truckers, who adeptly back straight up to loading docks. Maybe with practice, I could learn this skill, and be a respectable trucker. But, right now, you should not trust me with a large, heavy, dangerous (in my hands) semi-trailer truck.
This is a rather absurd example: few people would assume that self-awareness is related to driving abilities. But, as I articulate my trustworthiness in some arenas of functioning and untrustworthiness in others, I know my skills and limitations. I know when to trust myself. I know when to seek the help or expertise of someone else. Likewise, in my relationships, when I challenge the simplification of believing that loving someone means trusting them in all things, I can both protect myself AND love them more fully. Fear drives us to evaluate if we respect someone’s behaviors; Love drives us to honor everyone. As we gain clarity in our honoring and respecting, our agency is enhanced—allowing us to have boundaries without barriers.