No you did not read that title wrong.
We talk so much about respecting others and self-respect, but do we really know how to react when others start to show us respect? I found myself in this situation just recently. I was invited to guest host Nerdgasm Noire Network’s podcast to discuss my livetweet event reflecting on the 100 years that have passed since the premier of Birth of a Nation.
When describing the event, I felt I had stumbled through an explanation of the event and its purpose. Upon listening to the playback a few days later, I realized I hadn’t done so badly. The explanation was clear and I articulated the point I wanted to make. However, I also realized why I felt so unsettled even though I was in a safe space with people who wanted to hear what I had to say.
No one interrupted me or tried to speak over me the entire time I spoke.
I’m used to being interrupted or prodded along whenever I open my mouth to say anything. Having someone sit by and let me work out my thoughts on my own is still a new experience for me, so new that it never occurred to me that those interruptions were not meant to help me so much as to construct a power dynamic that would make me feel insecure, or worse inferior.
The one thing that constant interruptions when you are speaking teaches you is that what you are saying is not valuable. By extension, you are not valuable. So you come to doubt everything you say and believe not only that you do not have the acumen to express yourself verbally but also that it is best to remain silent even when you feel you have something important to say.
I remember reading once that studies show how boys are allowed to think aloud and formulate their thoughts verbally but girls are not. When I did Nerdgasm, I was allowed to backtrack and collect myself while I thought aloud, but I grew nervous when I did it. I’m not used to that type of silence while I speak. I’m afraid to stutter and stumble over words because doing so gives them less weight and labels me as intellectually inferior.
This means that answering questions can become terrifying. I have to know an answer within just a few seconds of the end of the question or else I’ll look unintelligent. As someone who has gotten by all her life by being intelligent, this is unacceptable.
But let me get back to this question of respect. I am astounded at how I have come to expect a certain type of treatment in my life because of past experiences. I expect to be interrupted when I speak. I expect others to take my ideas and represent them as their own or “improve” upon them. I expect others to hear to me with the intention of showing me what they know rather than listen to what I had to say.
So the idea of anyone respectfully listening to something I had to say and being okay with it is still a rather foreign concept. That expectation of people treating me with any modicum of respect catches me off guard and I’m still not sure how to react. Furthermore, it’s still hard to identify sometimes when people approach me in a respectful manner because I’m so used to disrespect.
The question for me becomes how do I even identify when someone treats me with respect in the first place? When I did Nerdgasm, not only did they let me speak my piece, but they also either responded with thanks for offering that perspective or related followup questions. No one “tested” me or tried to put me on the spot in some sort of weird challenge that would show me how smart they were. (I encountered this frequently in grad school, usually when someone started a question with the words “what do you think about.”)
So I may be better at realizing when others treat me with respect without expecting anything in return. I’ve always been one to try to give it, so I definitely want to make an effort to return it when I realize I’ve received it. I guess it’s part of that everyday process of self-love and self-care that tells me I am worthy of respect from others because I am existing human. I deserve respect and learn to recognize it when it’s given.