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110: Being OK with things

What’s the difference between respecting someone and accepting someone?

Show notes and links:
Empirically supported techniques of cognitive behavior therapy: A step by step guide for clinicians. (University of Nevada, Reno)
What It Really Means To Accept The People Around Us (Thought Catalog)
What is Respect? (Talking With Trees)
Respect (Urban Dictionary)
Respect Or Acceptance — Which Should We Choose? (Huffington Post)


Full episode text

In some (though not all) dictionaries, “respect” and “accept” are considered synonyms, or close to. Connotatively, it seems difficult to accept someone without respecting them, or visa versa. Yet there are significant denotative differences and differences in functional results.

Acceptance is an ideal usually abbreviated as the mental state of thinking that something is OK. In legal terminology, acceptance is consenting to an offer or an ideal. In either situation, it’s an assent to something. It may not be something that you like, but it is something that you have come to recognize is reality. In the 2009 book General Principles and Empirically Supported Techniques of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, the editors discuss how acceptance often includes of not actively trying to change whatever it is you’ve “accepted” as well, and point out that acceptance in one area often leads to an easing of stress in others.

Respect, on the other hand, is something very different. While acceptance is an internal process that has external implications, I believe respect is often an external process with internal implications (refer to episode 3, or the deep dive on internal & external change for more about this).

Respect can be defined many ways. In one attempt to define respect for kids, Talking Tree Books suggests using the phrase “care about” – acting in ways that show that you do not actively wish to go against an expectation. Urban Dictionary uses the word “respect” to define “dignity”. Consideration also comes up often. It definitely seems that “respect” is difficult to define, yet easy to name when it’s been broken.

So what’s the difference? The founder of the group Respect Differences puts it this way:

“Can we get all people to accept people of color, queer individuals, or a certain religion? No. What we can do is get those people to understand that they are entitled to their thoughts and feelings, but they need to RESPECT that there are people different than them in the world….We are all different, and we should simply just respect that. When respect is broken, that is where a line is crossed. And respect is often broken because many people feel as if we are trying to get them to ACCEPT something and someone that they do not personally agree with.”

On the other hand, in an essay for Thought Catalog, I thought the author Aldwyn Tan puts the other argument well by saying “Acceptance isn’t as clear as black and white. We live a life touching and connecting with other people, and when we do those, we get to understand them a little better… No matter how much we would love these people to change and match the ideal people in our minds, they just won’t. And even if they do, it wouldn’t feel right because what’s important is still seeing the silver lining in between—the quality, attitude, or any characteristic that drew us to them in the first place.”