Deference is defined as “respect and esteem due a superior or an elder.” Deference is important, because it conveys respect. As an older, senior leader, I have been shown a great deal of deference by my friends and colleagues. I appreciate the kindness people show me, and I in return have shown deference to them. Its not that difficult to show deference to people you understand to know more than you do, or who have been through the experiences that they have weathered.
The picture of deference should be as the Japanese greeting where two people bow towards one another, not like a slave with his face in the dirt bowing toward an oriental potentate.
No one likes being disrespected. I honestly don’t think I’m that big a deal, but it bothers me when people treat me with disrespect. As a result, I have sought to never treat other people that way, whether or not they are older than me or have more experience than me. It goes along with the idea of treating people the way you wish to be treated.
I’ve met people in all circumstances, and regardless of their station in life, I have tried to show them respect, because they are people created in the Image of God. Honoring others is how I honor the image of God in them. Its a matter of kindness.
I have found that when I don’t show people respect, by being rude or unkind, it reflects badly on me. People notice how you treat others, especially if you are a leader. When you don’t treat people well, other people think, “When will he treat me that way?” and it makes them hesitant to be open and friendly with you.
Its not always easy to show people deference. When we are aware of people’s flaws, we are aware of how human they are, and it makes it more difficult to show them any sort of deference. The problem is, we are all human, and we all have flaws. Some people’s flaws are more obvious than others, but we all have them. It astounds me when people tell me about someone’s flaws and what they find unacceptable in others is the same flaws I see in them. They are oblivious to their own issues, but they lash out at others with the same problems. Psychologists would say that you see the things you don’t like about yourself in others, and condemn it in them to feel better about yourself. Whatever the reason, its wrong.
There are people with whom I find it difficult or impossible to show deference. When people treat other people badly, its hard for me to respect them. I have broken off professional relationships over it. I don’t want to be associated with people who are willing to crush other people’s spirits, or humiliate them publicly or privately. The rabbis taught that embarrassing others is like killing them. I tend to not be that confrontational. Even when I do address an issue with someone, I tend to hold back, because I don’t want to hurt them. If I actually told people exactly what I think, without holding back, it might be too much for them to handle, or they might not be able to receive it. In either case, it would do no good.
Real deference needs to be mutual; not limited to people in high position or with many accomplishments. We should treat people well because they are created in God’s image, because they have feelings, and because we ourselves wish to be treated with kindness and respect.
For me being a leader means I need not only to teach, but to encourage others and be kind to them. I frequently wonder what kind of effect I have on other people. I hope it is good, because I am answerable for this. If we all treated one another with more kindness and understanding, and less critical intolerance, we would be more effective and less hurtful to those around us.