Sana Farid

Original Publication: July 2005.  Current Implications added by Heidi Burgess in January 2020.

MBI MOOS LogoCurrent Implications

Though this article was written fifteen years ago, every word of it still applies today--and its importance is greatly magnified. Although Guy Burgess and I frequently quip that "all one variable theories are wrong" (in itself a one-variable theory), the lack of respect given by each U.S. political party to members of the other is certainly an extremely important driver of today's highly dangerous and destructive political polarization. More...


July 2005

This piece was written while the author was completing a Master of Arts degree in Peace Studies at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame.

See also our "Things YOU Can Do To Help" article on Respect and the Respect Infographic.

"When men and women are able to respect and accept their differences then love has a chance to blossom." -- John Gray

In a class on negotiations and the impact of power, two students in a mock group negotiation exercise willingly walked out of a profitable deal just so that a stronger member of the group could be taught a lesson and be left with nothing. When asked in the debriefing session as to the reason, the response that came was that the man in power was asserting his authority over the less powerful groups and constantly showed an arrogant attitude. The lack of respect given was enough for them to accept losses, provided that the student with power lost face in front of others.

Another group in the same class walked in with extremely different results. The outcome was more equally distributed. In this case, the person in power was asked for the reason. His reasoning was: ‘I know I have power; but I don't need to show it. I have to build relationships with these other players, so it is important I treat them with respect. For it is these small relationships that will help me in the future.'

What is Respect?

Sarah Cobb describes the importance of framing values clearly in one's narratives.

Every human being and nation, irrespective of their power or strength, has the right to be respected. "Respect is an unassuming resounding force, the stuff that equity and justice are made of."[1] It means being treated with consideration and esteem and to be willing to treat people similarly.. It means to have a regard for other peoples' feelings,[2] listening to people and hearing them, i.e. giving them one's full attention. Even more importantly, respect means treating one with dignity. Respect is the opposite of humiliation and contempt. So where the latter can be a cause of conflict, the former and its opposite can help transform it. As William Ury writes in his book The Third Side: "Human beings have a host of emotional needs- for love and recognition, for belonging and identity, for purpose and meaning to lives. If all these needs had to be subsumed in one word, it might be respect"[3].

Importance of Respect in Peacebuilding and Conflict Transformation

Respect is the first positive step in building a relationship and relationships are central to conflict transformation.[4] One does not have to like a person or understand his viewpoint to accord him respect. Respect comes with the belief that a person or culture can have beliefs contradictory to ours and we should still honor them, as basic respect is a fundamental right of all human beings. In addition, goals and concessions become easier to attain when the element of respect is present As Bill Richardson, the US permanent representative to the UN put it. "You have to be a human being. You cannot be arrogant..... If you treat each individual with respect, each nation with dignity, you can get a lot further than trying to muscle them"[5]

A case example is that of John Kamm, the founder of Dui Hua Foundation. Kamm has been successful in persuading the Chinese government to release political prisoners, when many others have failed. He has found that approaching the Chinese "with dignity and respect facilitated their response to his inquiries and uncovered a wealth of information regarding the status and well being of thousands of political prisoners.[6]"

Peacebuilding and conflict transformation strongly emphasize the human relationship aspect. Therefore, for peacebuilding to succeed, the element of respect is essential.

Respect plays an important role in a number of ways.

  1. Respect allows one to build trust with "the other."
  2. Respect allows one to build and rebuild relationships.
  3. It provides one with "an entry," into the other side
  4. Those who are respected within the community are most likely to be able to bring or encourage peace.
  5. In addition, according respect can make the key difference in the direction of the conflict[7].
  6. Its presence can lead to a positive change, while its absence may lead to even more destruction.

The presence of respect can therefore create opportunities. It is then up to the peace builder to act upon them.

Thus, for a peacebuilder, it is important to look at respect from different angles. First is the importance of treating parties to a conflict with civility and honor. Once people are accorded respect, they are more willing to make compromises which are long term and sustainable, rather than those that are made under duress. Second, peacebuilders and "outsider neutral" mediators need to look for links within the conflicted society and community that have the respect of the people, such as professors, elders, religious leaders etc. Through these people, the mediators and peacebuilders can build networks and contacts. And through their help, peacebuilders and mediators can begin to build rapport with the conflicting parties.

What Happens in the Absence of Respect?

Contempt and humiliation are the absence of respect, as are a sense of being unheard or not understood. The absence of respect or a perceived lack of respect often leads to conflict at an individual, family and societal level. Since the first key step to building strong relationships is respect, the absence of respect or the breakdown of respect are also key factors in the breakdown of relationships and in the occurrence of conflict. Relationships and contacts that are built without the presence of respect are seldom long term or sustainable.

Creating Respect

Respect is created in many ways.

William Ury tells how he managed to build trust with the leaders in Venezuela and through shuttle diplomacy and focusing on their interests got them working together to prevent violence.

  1. It is created when people treat others as they want to be treated. This brings us to the famous quotation from the Bible. "Do unto others as you would others do unto you". This also brings the element of circularity to it. That is, things are connected and in relationship. So the growth of something, such as respect, often nourishes itself from its own process and dynamics[8]. Be the first to accord respect, and with time, it will develop among all the conflicting parties.
  2. Avoid insulting people or their culture; instead try to understand them. Many disastrous interactions are characterized by attitudes such as arrogance, disdain, fear of difference, etc.[9] To avoid this, it helps to contact people who are familiar with the unfamiliar culture and can give the peacebuilder guidelines of how to best adapt to the culture.
  3. Be courteous. Listen to what others have to say[10]. Treat people fairly. All the basic elements "that we learned in Kindergarten" will go a long way to creating an atmosphere of trust and respect.[11]
  4. Apart from the above, when already involved in a conflict, ‘separating the people from the problem[12]' also allows one to treat the other side with honor. Recognizing that the issue is the problem at hand and not the people can also help create respect.


Thus the presence of respect can help transform conflicts, by providing opportunities that did not exist before. At the same time, the absence of respect can lead to conflict. What makes men like Bill Richardson and John Kamm succeed in negotiations and dialogue where many other fail, especially in their dealings with cultures other than our own? What makes them different from others? Both cite respect to be their main secret. Recognize respect to be a basic human right, treat individuals and states with dignity, and you will receive a more sustainable response. The relationships so established will be based on mutual trust and respect, and hence is likely to last. In contrast, if you browbeat your enemies (or both sides if you are the mediator) then even though the goal may be attained, the relationship will be resentful, and backlash, more than stable peace is the more likely outcome.

Current Implications

Though this article was written fifteen years ago, every word of it still applies today--and its importance is greatly magnified. Although Guy Burgess and I frequently quip that "all one variable theories are wrong" (in itself a one-variable theory), the lack of respect given by each U.S. political party to members of the other is certainly an extremely important driver of today's highly dangerous and destructive political polarization.

One very obvious case that I have used in several other posts in this seminar and elsewhere was Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton's reference to Trump supporters as"deplorables." Equally destructive were Candidate Trump's reference to immigrants as criminals and rapists, and referring to others as coming from "shithole countries." Trump's disrespectful comments have continued (frequently in his tweets) almost daily since he was elected. Rather than bringing the country together as commanders and chief usually try to do, Trump is trying to fan the flames of hatred on all sides of the political divide, and he is being extremely successful in doing so.

The result, unfortunately, but not surprisingly, is continued escalation as many liberals lash back with their own disrespectful speech about Trump personally, his administration, his allies (such as Mitch McConnell) and Trump supporters in general.  This is a classic example of a positive feedback system which drives escalation higher and higher.  So, as was suggested in this essay, and as we reiterate in our Things YOU Can Do To Help and Infographics posts on Respect, respect is cyclical. If you give it, you will get it back. If you give disrespect, you'll get that back too. Giving respect—even in response to disrespect (i.e. "taking the high ground")—costs nothing and can gain much (though it may take a while to break the cycle). 

--Heidi Burgess. Jan, 2020.

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[1] William Aiken. "Respect". In CPA Journal. Available online at


[3] Ury, William. " The third side" New York: Penguin, 2000

[4] Lederach. John Paul. The Little Book of Conflict Transformation

[5] Szulc, Tad. How to talk to a Dictator

[6] The MacArthur Fellows Program. Available online at

[7] Refer to the story from Ghana " I do not wish to in John Paul Lederach's "The Moral Imagination"

[8] Lederach. John Paul. The Little Book of Conflict Transformation

[9] Moore, Christopher W. and Woodrow, Peter. "What Do I Need to Know About Culture? Practitioners Suggest..." In Into the Eye of the Storm. Edited by John Paul Lederach and Janice Moomaw Jenner.


[11] "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten" available online at and as a book with the same title written by Robert Fulghum. Ivy Books; Reissue edition. 1989.

[12] Ury, William & fisher. Getting to Yes. New York: Penguin Books. 1991

Use the following to cite this article:
Farid, Sana. "Respect." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: July 2005 <>.

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