A Question of Respect

I’ve decided to post a question, because I’ve been too busy to write a good post in quite some time, and this trend might continue. It’s on one of my favorite subjects: Respect- what it is, what it means. Here’s the question:

Who shows greater respect for a superior–
1) a person who keeps quiet when he disagrees with important statements or decisions; or,
2) one who speaks up for what he believes is right?

[Note: I originally said “speaks up to defend an opposing view” — see comments.]

By ‘important,’ I mean to suggest issues or matters of principle that most people would consider worth speaking up about under ordinary circumstances. But in an authoritarian, hierarchical organization like a dojo or martial arts association, circumstances aren’t always ordinary.

Context matters, of course. I’m not talking about disagreeing with a superior when they are teaching class, because I think it’s clear in that context: Respect always requires keeping quiet unless called upon, and approaching the disagreement, if it’s really necessary, by asking polite questions, perhaps after class.

Let’s limit it to things like policy decisions or personnel matters, at the dojo or larger organizational level. If the boss makes an official statement or decides to implement a policy you believe is badly mistaken, is it respectful to speak up or to keep quiet? What if the boss has made it clear they don’t really care for advice?

I look forward to your thoughts.


6 Responses to “A Question of Respect”

  1. Chris Baglieri Says:

    In all cases, respect is based at least two factors – (1) Context and (2) Relationship

    As you mentioned, the context (e.g. – while teaching class) is often most important. Feedback is most respectful in it’s rightful place and at the right time. Context also presupposes that the senior has invited a response, or asked for an opinion.

    Relationship is trickier – You could say that all respectful behavior is based on acting in accordance with the true relationship between two parties. (student-teacher, peer-peer, youngster-elder).

    Given those two things, it is -always- respectful to seek the best answer to a question. Depending on the relationship and context, the only variable is how one participates in the process.

    Juniors will often find that the only way to question a decision is to ask actual questions. “Pardon me Sifu, but I was wondering….”

    Peers who are due a certain amount of respect may ask a senior a question that implies that their opinion differs. “Do you think it might be better to…..”

    Since questioning is part of the proper relationship between student and master, it is usually possible to do so respectfully, provided the junior takes the hint if the feedback is not after all welcome.

    In most cases though – I believe that defending “an opposing view” is already crossing the line into disrespect. In the situation you stated, presenting an alternative is respectful, while arguing against the judgment of a superior is not.

    • serpentstaff Says:

      Chris- Thanks for your well-considered reply. Among other things, it made me realize how my word choice inadvertently biased the question. To someone like me who is comfortable with disputation and disagreement outside the dojo, the phrase ‘defend an opposing view’ doesn’t carry a negative connotation, but I now realize it suggests standing up in opposition to one’s leader. What I meant to suggest was something more like an ’emperor has no clothes’ situation. One person may refrain from speaking up because it’s the emperor, and it would be disrespectful to contradict–or seem to contradict–the emperor. Or because the emperor doesn’t like advice, and they “respect” that. But another person might think the right thing to do is speak up urgently, in spite of the emperor’s dislike of advice, to try to keep him from walking all over town naked and regretting it later. Is that second person being disrespectful? Or is the one who fails to speak up, and lets the emperor look foolish, being disrespectful by not speaking?
      (Now I’m going to have to go review the fable.)

    • serpentstaff Says:

      I edited the question in the post, after my initial comment.
      I also re-read “The Emperor’s New Clothes” – which was a little different from what I had remembered. In the story, people don’t speak up because they’ve been led to believe doing so will reveal their own foolishness, so it’s not about fearing to contradict the emperor. Perhaps there’s another story that would be more apt.

  2. In my experience (true) loyalty to someone requires respect however respect for that same person (boss, sensei, sifu, parent, etc.) does NOT require loyalty. I know it sounds crude but that’s just me.

    Fortunately for me I have immense respect for my two sensei and my dojo has come to be a quasi-second home to me (loyalty portion).

    What Chris has stated is perfect; I’ll add that it requires awareness and feeling of the situation and relationship.

  3. Tall Bonsai Says:

    I tend to agree, context and relationship are both important. If a direct “challenge” is inappropriate, then getting your alternative idea through indirect means may yield better results.

    For example, if you disagree with something your sensei says, perhaps there’s a sempai you can talk to who can relay your message to your sensei in a way that would be more appropriate. That is, go up the chain of command.

    There is also the matter of timing. If sensei is discussing changes policies, curriculum, or schedule, you have to gauge whether it’s still at the idea stage, the execution stage, or “it’s already done, I’m just telling you” stage.
    – In the idea stage, sensei will be most open to other ideas.
    – In the last stage, it’s too late, you best keep your mouth shut; or you can word it as something to think about if changes are considered in the future.
    – The middle “execution” stage is really the tricky one, and requires most finesse if you’re going to say anything.

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