Can you respect a bully? Part II

My last post, “Can You Respect a Bully: Part I”, was about the time I walked into the office of the rector-superior of the seminary at the University of Notre Dame. Remember it?  I knocked on his door and asked if we could schedule a meeting. He said “No, I’m busy now.” I said, “It would be convenient to do it now.” He said, “We are not here for your convenience.” OUCH!

I thought of him back then as a tyrant and a bully. His response seemed thoroughly disrespectful in that moment. It took me about a decade to realize that, though he seemed a little heavy-handed at times, in that moment it was I who was disrespecting his authority.

The whole point of that post was to say this: “Yes, you can respect a bully, if you can find a bully-aspect living inside of you and not slip into becoming a victim of that bully”.

At a staff in-service recently I asked them to help me recall the scene as we debriefed the story. “Can we meet?” I had asked my superior…  “and what was his reply?” They could not remember.  None of the groups I trained that day could recall, though I had just told the story minutes earlier. I said “He told me ‘no’, it was not a good time to schedule the meeting. And then the line I will never forget, ‘We are not here for your convenience.’”

Then I asked the group I was training, “Who do you think was being disrespectful me or him?” “He was.” agreed four women sitting together, in one group, all happened to be African-American.  “It depends…” said a young male caregiver who happened to be Caucasian.  He asked me, “What was his tone of voice?” I said the tone was direct and business-like.

In the next session, with a different group, I told the same story and got the same feedback, by the people with similar colored skin. The people of darker skin color said he disrespected me by his comment. The person with lighter skin color said it depended on tone of voice.

This caught my attention. Why did the people of darker skin color perceive my superior as being disrespectful while those with lighter skin color did not assume disrespect? Why did the only white man in both groups say “It depends…”?

Does this feedback relate to gender or race or something else?

Do people from different cultures have different ideas about respect? Are there different rules for governing social interactions, depending on your race or class? If you are not sure, then see Ruby Payne’s amazing book, A Framework for Understanding Poverty for a primer on how different social and economic classes have very different often “unwritten” rules for governing social interaction.

Do those who feel chronically-disrespected perceive respect differently? Do they tend to over-react to authority figures, even when those in authority are drawing a clear boundary? Or are those in authority wielding their power in truly disrespectful ways that are not obvious to others who hold high privilege? Do those with more social rank have a more balanced perspective on what constitutes disrespect?

Do we all get locked into certain roles?

I am not sure why I got the feedback at the nursing home. I do think our social and contextual rank can shape the way we perceive reality. I do believe those who feel chronically disrespected, at times, misinterpret disrespect. But I am not sure. I would really love your insights, even one or two sentences about what you think was happening or what this makes you think about would be a huge gift to me.

Part of respect is accurately seeing what is happening. I need help seeing right now. Thanks, in advance, for those of you who will take the time to reflect and write me a note.  Please use my email:  tom@eschconsulting.com.  Thank you for taking the time to read this and ponder it.  I hope it helps you grow your awareness and capacity for empathy.

About Tom Esch

Tom Esch works with health care companies, counties, cities, construction companies, business analysts, attorneys, executives, owners, managers and non-profit executives to grow interpersonal awareness and foster effective communication.