Respect and Reverence

What is respect and what is reverence? Who deserves respect? My, how often respect is misunderstood!

In the music business, some days we feel big and some days we feel small. We do it to ourselves. We let others do it to us. And sometimes others aren’t even trying to do it to us, we just feed on however we read their attitude or energy – and we take our own little ride. Up the rollercoaster. Down the rollercoaster.

This is no surprise. In any business where there are critics, where only a few can shine at any given time, and where there are presumably gatekeepers who hold the key to opportunities to shine, dynamics of power and leverage and control are abundant. And certainly, music is such a business.

We are all living in this petry dish of how we deal with it.

And for each of us, it is a lifelong journey.

What I want to discuss today is how admiration and respect come to play in this landscape. I have been thinking about this a lot lately because I admire a lot of people. I am a fan. I have a great deal of respect, especially for folks in this business who manage to carve out lives representing music and artists they care about, and who still follow the inner compass of their passion. People who are still close to why they got into this business in the first place – no matter how long ago it was. Principled leaders.

I have been surprised at times by how colleagues in the business have reacted to moments when I reveal my admiration for others. I have heard comments like, “Well, he’s just a man, Michelle,” or “He’s not that big,” or “She’s just like you, I don’t know why you make such a huge deal out of her.”

I of course know that people are just people. If you’ve read my previous posts, you know I believe in authentic connection. And ability to authentically connect hinges on the belief that each of us are just people doing what we do, and we all have grounds on which we can relate, even if we are in different career stages. But it is interesting to me that some of my supporters are made uncomfortable when I express mentee-like respect for others. Their responses suggest they almost feel a need to downplay the other person in order to reassure me that I am significant. They see my admiration as a weakness – that by elevating someone else I am revealing that I do not believe in my own abilities. This is not the case. I feel safe respecting mentors and colleagues BECAUSE I feel secure in my abilities and talent. I feel comfortable with where I am on my journey. And I look to others for opportunities to observe and learn – from afar or near – how to continue to grow on my road.

I also think the comments come from something else. Sometimes it is hard to recognize the difference between Respect and Reverence. And in order to avoid risking misplaced reverence, we sometimes stifle respect, its vital safer sister. This is what is most intriguing to me.

In my personal emotional glossary…

RESPECT is when you esteem someone, their life work, experience and what they have to say, based on some action or trait you have observed or believe to be present. You may disagree with that person, but you ultimately value the grounding and substance of their perspective and believe they represent intellect and issues you care about. Respect can grow from observing a lifetime of work, or it can spark from action or achievement in a given moment in time. The person is human, flawed, and can be humbled – sure – but you choose to give them respect. And it feels good to respect them, because respect is also an expression of faith. A positive.

REVERENCE for a person is when you elevate someone to be so high that they are no longer human. They become so precious that you exclude any sense that they might be flawed. You might recognize the challenges they face as a human, but you see only what they represent on the larger scale. In my life, I reserve reverence for faith – for god – or the spirit that represents god, for lack of better language about it. To me, I do have reverence for only a few extraordinary humans – like Mother Theresa, Ghandi and Mandela – who truly have done works of kindness and shown extreme perseverence that impacted millions of people worldwide. I am willing to concede reverence for these individuals because, there is no question in my mind, I absolutely do protect the image I have of them and they absolutely do represent something holy to me.

I believe my colleagues’ remarks come from them thinking that what I am expressing is Reverence when what I am actually feeling is Respect. They feel the need to remind me that the person I am talking about is human. That they take a crap just like everyone else. That they have insecurities. That they’ve made mistakes. That I don’t need to put them up on a pedestal. Because they think I am made smaller looking up at that pedestal. But in my mind, I am not putting them on a pedestal. I know they’ve made mistakes. I have sometimes even participated in or been impacted by their mistakes, large and small. But I still see value in the respect I have for them.

While flaws may sometimes be human points of connection, I do not need other people to be flawed in order to relate to them. I do not need other people to be small for me to be big.

I believe embracing the light and power and energy in other people, learning from them in that place, from what they are living when they live their best selves, is a force that can open that light and power and energy in ourselves.

We must be willing to be fans of other people – and be willing to show our fandom. Being a fan carries a tremendous amount of ENERGY. It is innocent and honest. It is not embarrassing – it is ADMIRABLE. It feels empowering even. We can all relate. You can’t hate that emotion. You can only love it. Being a fan is freeing. It is an expression of faith in something outside of ourselves. Of caring about something enough to say it out loud. In a world where it feels unsafe to believe at times.

Some may think I’m old fashioned. That this notion of respect comes from having grown up “the old way” or risidually valuing “authoritative hierarchical ideals.” But I don’t think I’m old fashioned or brainwashed. I just can’t imagine working without respect and admiration. To me, it is a tremendous source of energy and expansion, not deflation, to admire and respect someone. It is a source of inspiration to celebrate another’s successes and seek ways to incorporate lessons from their triumphs into my own life and work. It is encouraging to see how they have navigated failures, and learn from those as well.

Have we been let down by our heroes so many times that we no longer allow ourselves to have them? Has it become so hip to be a self-made person that we are afraid to admire and seek mentors? To learn from experience? Why are we always trying to skip that part?

It is an act of courage to believe in another person. It is equally an act of ignorance, which stifles growth, if we fail to believe in mentors who present themselves to us along our journeys.

We don’t have to know everything divinely! We don’t have to learn it all for ourselves and reinvent wheels. We don’t need to prove to elders that we belong here. We do not lose anything by admitting admiration. We must have the courage to esteem our predecessors, to value their experience, to ask those who have been there before, and trust ourselves to synthesize that information with our own experience to navigate the best we can. This is our education.