Seeing Respect from Different Angles
Sometimes we’re quick to judge others’ behavior and label them as disrespectful. But if you look deeper and with empathy, you may find that something entirely different is actually going on. In this activity, you will examine a situation from two different angles – from the perspective of family members and the perspective of a cancer survivor.
Read the following scenario:
Your brother-in-law, Marcos, has been saying he’s very tired since his cancer treatment ended six months ago. He’s often too exhausted to attend family social gatherings. You haven’t seen him in three months. He missed his son’s school band concert and even his own birthday party. On the other hand, he regularly goes golfing and plays poker with his friends.
Answer the following questions:
- What do you think is going on with your brother-in-law?
- Do you think he is respecting or disrespecting his family?
On the surface, he’s not respecting his family. It’s inconsiderate to miss a child’s concert or a party your spouse spent time and effort to plan for you. Why would Marcos do this? Could there be something else going on?
Consider an alternative explanation:
There’s no excuse for inconsiderate behavior – but there may be an explanation. Perhaps Marcos is doing really well since his cancer treatment and he has been ready to move on from it — but his family is not. Perhaps he doesn’t want to be the center of attention anymore. Also, maybe he thinks it would be better for them to put this experience behind them. They supported him through a tough time and he thinks they deserve a change. Maybe he has talked to them about it but they just won’t listen. In this scenario, he may be more comfortable playing golf and poker with his buddies because they listened. They respect his wishes. They don’t ask him questions about his cancer. They treat him like a regular guy. And it feels good.
Now answer the following questions:
- How do you feel about this explanation? Does it change your opinion about his disrespectful behavior?
- How do you think Marcos’ family was or wasn’t showing him respect?
- Can you empathize* with him? Can you respect his perspective? Could you respect his wishes going forward?
- What can you do in the future to understand the behavior of people in your life that seems disrespectful?
Take a second look! Seeing a situation from the other person’s perspective is a definition of empathy. Empathy can foster understanding. Understanding can promote acceptance and approval. Approval can lead to esteem. And esteem is a form of respect.
This research project was funded by a grant from the National Cancer Institute (CA144235; Dr. Wayne Beach, San Diego State University, Principal Investigator). Co-investigators included Dr. David Dozier from San Diego State University, and Mary Buller, Dr. Valerie Myers, and Dr. David Buller from Klein Buendel, Inc.