respect, deference

So about a year ago I had a school assignment where I was to interview someone from a non-Christian faith tradition. One of my good friends (also in the class!) in one of her previous (work-)lives served with an interfaith organization, and offered to broker a connection with one of her former colleagues. Sign me up! so she linked us via Messenger. She said hello, I said hello,

And… crickets.

Did I mention she is a Yoruba priestess? (As much an American as I, mind you — faith traditions are not bound by borders.)

Did I mention that, when more than a handful of days’ silence had gone by, I listed all my available time-slots for her to pick from… as a good U.S. business-person does?

Did I mention that, when the silence stretched well over a week, I assumed I’d given serious offense?

I mean, even right after I’d sent off the note I wondered. I have profound respect, but very little deference.


I was thinking about that tonight, as the speaker (we’re Internet friends) wove me into his presentation. He wanted to make a point about how beneficiaries of our big work can often pull us forward when we are getting stuck — “If I’ve told Kimbol I’m going to finish the thing by XX, that’s enough to get me to work on it just a little more… and hold off on Netflix.”

I grinned. Because if he indeed told me he was going to finish the thing by XX, I would Internet-tap him on the shoulder by lunchtime. I have so much respect for Charlie! I listen hard (and read hard) to what he says, and consider it all carefully. But even though he’s further along in his big work than I, I don’t have enough deference not to tease him. At least a little.


It’s interesting to me how folk conflate the two when they’re not actually related. I offer respect in my attention, my thoughtful consideration, my conversation, and even my silences and laughter. You matter. To me. And in all the ways I can manage to demonstrate that, I will.

And you mattering to me does not mean that I will do what you want (necessarily), agree with what you say (necessarily), wait behind you in line… well, I might do that one. I know how to defer — I was reared in the US South, after all! — and, to be truthful, when it’s expedient I do sometimes defer. Still. Expediency, for me, generally inversely correlates with respect. The more I care, the more likely I am to argue with you.

I’ve always assumed it’s a particularly American mixture, this prioritizing respect over deference. I don’t have any real data to back me up — it’s merely an unfounded assertion at this point. If you find anything one way or another, I’d be fascinated to know more!

Because I hope you respect me too. XD

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