- MIstrust is based on being devalued and disrespected. When we disrespect someone we contribute to conflict.
- Wanting to feel valued is the common thread that binds us all. Respect leads to value. Value leads to trust.
- Every time you remind someone of their value you increase your own value.
- We can shift the paradigm and see each other as doing the best we can instead of less than we can.
In society today, we have moved far away from the simple approach of reminding people of their value; a person of an opposite political persuasion is valued. The current worldwide anger and anxiety is a result. We don’t trust each other. We restrict our trust to our in-group, our own tribe, at the exclusion of a multitude of out-groups. Earlier, I discussed the evolutionary pressure on this behavior. We cannot afford to follow this strategy; it has become counterproductive.
My wife and I often reflect on how different the world was when we were growing up. For her, the most dramatic comparison is letting our kids go outside to play. She grew up in a town with beaches and forests. Her parents would open the door, and out she went with her brothers and sisters. They came home at night, and there was never an expectation of anything else.
But today, with the fear of kidnappers, drugs, and malevolence—kids don’t go out to play without some underlying anxiety. Many years ago, a close friend who I trust completely had bought a red convertible. He offered to drive my then 12-year-old daughter and two of her friends up the hill to the little country store. It was closed when they got there, so my friend asked where else they would like to go. As they lingered in the parking lot, they were noticed by a policeman in his cruiser. And when they left the parking lot, the policeman followed them all the way back to our driveway down the hill. While grateful, on the one hand, that the police are so vigilant, it is a sad example of how much we worry and how mistrustful we have become.
As a nation, our social domain has shifted to one of mistrust. With this shift, the impact on our sense of self is that we see the world as more dangerous than it was when we were growing up. Respect leads to value and value leads to trust. But disrespect leads to feeling devalued, which results in mistrust. We live in a world where there is an enormous amount of disrespect.
This is a time of global economic depression, a pandemic, and a world of anger and fear. For many, money is short, and the distribution of resources is being actively discussed domestically and internationally. Healthcare reform, climate change, the undercurrents of religious wars, and political divisions bordering on civil war. We have a mutual fear of each other. Anger towards one another. Far, far from trust.
How does this mindset shift to another? What do we need to do, one person at a time, to shift the mistrust between nations, between neighbors, between strangers? You have an enormous influence on everyone around you. Perhaps in the face of so much anger and danger, invisibility, or the freeze response, being uninvolved and without influence, a person with no agency and no power, who does not matter is safer.
But you do matter. And even the choice of doing nothing, you have influence.
Adopting and applying the mindset that everyone is doing the best they can will make you a more active participant, helping us all recognize how we are very much involved, that even passivity has influence as much as aggression; and that the choices you make have an impact on me! Helping us all to realize that I am less likely to get angry when treated with respect; less likely to get angry and more likely to be able to shift from my fight-flight-freeze response to family-friendship-fellowship; able to listen, understand, and mutually respect. Respect leads to value and value leads to trust. And trust is the foundation of unlimited potential.
The stigma of mental illness rests on a foundation of mistrust. We diagnose people as disordered, and therefore less valuable, and less predictable. I suggest it is this mistrust that leads, for example, my wife to worry about the kids going out, or whether I am getting the best deal on a car. Without meaning to, we have created this mistrust when we began to become so self-focused—in part with all those self-help books.
Our world is full of prejudice and judgment. Prejudice towards mental illness is one of the more obvious, and one that I deal with a lot in my profession. But there are others that permeate our globe. Racial discrimination, sexism, gender and sexuality bias, ageism, political bias, and religious prejudice. All of these are based on mistrust and are used and exploited to separate people into groups. It should be no surprise that the profound disrespect born out of this leads to profound mistrust and anger.
But anger is an emotion designed to change something. Rather than run from anger, or get angry ourselves, let’s apply what we know about anger and respect that most angry people simply want to see something different. And, more likely than not, the thing they want to see differently is how they are seen: not as less than but as valuable. Just like all of us. Rather than separate into groups, the anger we all experience, the fear we all experience, and the joy and happiness we all experience, prove that we are one group, humanity.
We can start by seeing ourselves as doing the best we can, without judging but again looking, respecting. We can only look at ourselves honestly when we do not fear that we will find ourselves as less valuable, lacking, and at risk of being kicked out of our protective group. When we stop worrying, and instead wonder, who we are and why we do what we do. When we realize that even if someone else is judging us, that is the best they can do at that moment. We don’t have to like it or condone it, and we can hold that person responsible, but rather than judge them back, we can use our prefrontal cortex to rationally again-look at why they do what they do. What has happened at home, in the rest of their world, in their brain and body, and in their self-image that the best they can do is try to make me feel less valuable? I don’t have to take it personally and can consciously approach that person with respect.
It is time to move from the me generation to the we generation. Our lives are intrinsically interwoven. We cannot escape each other, nor should there be reason to. Each of us has a rich inner emotional life, driving our behaviors, and fluidly assessing the thoughts and feelings of others. We look to each other to assess ourselves. Wouldn’t it be so much better to find respect in the eyes of others, rather than disdain? We can do that by seeing other people as doing the best they can, and wondering who they are and why they do what they do. Without judging them as less valuable. We all want the same thing: to be simply valued. By you, by anyone. By everyone.
And every time you remind someone of their value, you increase your own value.
Out-group animosity drives engagement on social media. PNAS. 2021
Joseph Shrand, MD (2022) Unleashing the Power of Respect: The I-M Approach. Books Fluent, Nashville, TN