You Can’t Love But Not Respect

Q: Dr. Hurd, I’m in high school. A friend of mine at school keeps complaining that his parents treat him harsher than they treat his older brother. It’s not that they’re abusive or anything. However, they seem to hold him to a higher standard. His brother gets C’s and they don’t say anything. My friend gets mostly A’s and the occasional B; and they jump on him, even restricting him, for that one B. It’s not just grades, but everything. To my friend, it’s unfair and he deeply resents his parents for this injustice. He calls it “discrimination.” To me, they’re paying him a compliment. They’re holding him to a higher standard because they view him as capable of more — and knowing both him and his brother, I know for a fact it’s true. What do you think?

A: You’re right. Your friend’s parents are paying him a compliment, whether that’s their intention or not. The issue here is liking versus respect. Children — even grown children — want to be liked and loved, especially by their parents. They might not admit it, but they do. Your friend feels disliked by his parents. He may or may not be right. Some parents don’t love their children, although I assume most do. However, not all parents like their children equally. Maybe his parents don’t like him as much as his brother, or maybe they do. I don’t know, and he might not even be sure himself. What I do know for sure is that his parents respect him more — and with good reason, from what you say. Of course they hold the bar higher for him because they know he’s capable of more. To me, this suggests some form of love. You don’t spend time and energy on people you don’t like or love. In fact, they might even like his brother less.

Much depends on what his parents’ personalities and values are. Are they high-achieving individuals, or at least people who respect that quality in others? If so, I think they love their capable son very much. In a sense they’re rooting for him, cheering him on by making sure he becomes all that he can be. If they’re the type of people who don’t care about achievement — if they wallow in mediocrity or “worship of the average” and actually resent capable people — then perhaps they resent their son, and punish and restrict him accordingly. In this case, they’re punishing him for his success, his capability and his potential. This is a perfectly awful thing, although an all too common thing, and if true — well, his parents don’t matter much. They may be holding him to high standards, but they don’t mean to do so; they’re simply looking for opportunities to punish him because of any perceived weakness they find. I have no idea what kind of people his parents are, but knowing their personalities and values is really the way to judge their actions and intentions here.

Regardless of parents, both you and your friend ought to celebrate the fact that he’s capable. If his parents punish him because they resent his capability — well, how nice to be so intelligent and gifted that your own parents resent you! That’s pretty intelligent and gifted, even if it doesn’t speak much for the parents. And if the parents are, as you suspect, holding him to a higher standard because they respect him more than his brother … well, that’s a compliment too, and a well-deserved one. Either way, it’s good.

A lot of people get mixed up about liking and respect. They’re so wrapped up in whether someone likes them that they forget to ask: “Does this person respect me?” Parents are like this with their kids. “Am I being a good parent? Or am I being too mean? Am I being like a good friend?” Instead, they forget to ask, “Does my child respect me?” This happens in adult-adult scenarios as well, including employment, friendship and even marriages. People think that love can exist totally apart from admiration and respect, when in fact just the opposite is true: Your love of someone implies a positive appraisal of something about them that you hold to be good.

In short, there is no love without respect. Respect is not all there is to love, but it’s a crucial component. Think of a cake whose recipe calls for butter, flour and eggs. If you leave the eggs out, is it still the same cake? No way. Are the eggs the only ingredient that matter? Of course not. But it’s essential, at least for the particular cake.

The same is true with love. If you truly love someone, by definition this love includes respect. It’s good to have the respect of both your friends and your enemies. Even people who don’t love you can still respect you ‘ and respect is always a compliment.