“Respect” and “accept’ are two words everyone knows.
If you are at least school-aged, you know the definitions, how to use them in a sentence, and the words to the Aretha Franklin song (even though it came out before my parents were even born). Acceptance is something we’re taught at a young age in the hopes that we’ll lead diverse and meaningful lives. This all means you should know when someone else uses these words incorrectly. So why do people seem to have them confused lately?
As a little refresher, “respect” is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements” and “accept” as “to believe or come to recognize (an opinion, explanation, etc.) as valid or correct”.
*Note: not the same definition.
Respect is something we are supposed to have for others, regardless of a differing of opinion, simply because we are all people. We respect each other not only for our differences but because we have differences. At least, we should. We all say we love how unique each one of us is, so why not act like it?
Example: I do not agree that professional athletes should be making the six-figure salaries that they are. However, I respect that opinion, and professional athletes in general.
Some people who agree with me would defend the opinion somewhat aggressively, assuming that everyone who thinks we should leave the athletes’ salaries alone wants us to accept that idea. The reality is: some might, but most don’t.
I can respect an idea without accepting it as my own truth, and you can too. Acceptance does not have to precede respect. I love a good controversial conversation, and while I understand why some people don’t, I think we absolutely have to shy away from being terrified of disagreement. Conflict is real, healthy and always has, and will be, a part of life.
While my example was meant to be light-hearted and keep things at the surface, please realize the message goes much deeper than that. It is 2016: we have made incredible progress as a country, but yet, we still constantly struggle with racism, discrimination, and prejudice.
The inspiration for pondering this simplistic understanding of a complex situation stems from a conversation I had last year with a conservative man who does not believe that gay people should be able to be married. While I completely empathize and agree with the surrounding people’s frustration with this view, I explained to them that this man does not have to accept theirs. Would it be nice? Absolutely. But he can have respect for what they believe without accepting it. This is (apparently) difficult to wrap our heads around, but it’s important that we keep stretching them anyway.
So it all comes down to these two words. They sound similar and prove to have similarities, but that doesn’t mean they’re synonymous. I’m not saying we can fix these deeply-rooted systematic issues by recognizing this difference, but I am claiming that we cannot ever solve them if we don’t at least take this first step.
So if you find yourself in or around a sticky situation, realize that if you can respect and accept someone’s beliefs, great. But their beliefs aren’t yours, and you are not obligated to make them yours. You are always obligated to have respect, but acceptance is something much more personal.
You do not need to accept in order to respect; know the difference.