Defining Disrespect

Dear Terrence,

It’s ironic how today turned out: I was merely trying to explain that your standard for disrespect doesn’t matter as much as that of the individual with whom you’re speaking. In other words, I was trying to help you understand how others view questions of disrespect — to help you — when things turned sour, and you, in turn grew, disrespectful toward me.

“I don’t care what you think!” you said with enough aggressive enthusiasm that the whole class heard and understood.

I fear for your future if you’re unable to learn this simple lesson. Bosses and supervisors won’t hesitate: they’ll fire you. You’ll spend your life angry at the apparent fact that everyone seems to be playing by different rules than you, because in fact, they are. Their standard of disrespect is far narrower than yours. Things you think are harmless they view as highly disrespectful. And while it seems unfair, it doesn’t matter whether you have been taught by your family, have learned from experience, or simply have formed your own opinion: if you think it’s not disrespectful and they think it is, their opinion counts.

I will continue to try to help you learn what facial expressions, tones of voice, and elements of body language can be disrespectful, and I will help you try to see it in the moment so that you can correct yourself. However, there are two things you need to remember about this: first, I need to see some real effort on your part; second, if I don’t see that effort, I will have to remove you from the classroom, because it is disruptive and unfair to other students.

Your Teacher (in Room 302)


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