A Jewish sage prescribed the following behavior in interacting with others: “kabdehu ve hashdehu.” Translated, it means: “Respect and Suspect.” Let's try to understand this prescription.
First, let's interpret the word “respect.”
Immanuel Kant, the philosopher, said that to respect is to recognize the sovereignty of the other person to think differently. You don't have to think like me. My way of showing respect is to give you space to be who you are, to speak your mind freely.
Now, why should I give you space to think differently? Because I can learn from your difference of opinion. We don’t learn from people who agree with us. They only reinforce what we think, and what we think can be a big error. If two people agree on everything, one of them is not helpful for learning.
I appreciate it when people disagree with me and win the argument. When they win, it means I learned something I didn’t know before the interaction. I consider learning a blessing, and in the case of correcting a mistake, I am thankful that I learned before I unintentionally caused a crisis by making a bad decision.
We learn about our own culture by experiencing another culture and comparing them to each other. Comparative literature, comparative management systems—anything comparative is synergetic. The comparisons generate new information. New insights.
When we “respect” a person who disagrees with us, we open our mind to learn and gain value. In the Hebrew language we usually sign our messages with “ with respect and valuing ” ( im kavod ve haaracha) meaning I respect and value our interaction. “I value our interaction,” I value you because I learn from you.
Notice that respect came before valuing.
You can not gain value from interacting with someone whom you do not respect. Without respect you will not listen with an open mind. Respect is a condition to getting value out of an interaction. I need to respect you before you even disagree with me, because if I show disrespect, you will not open up and have the courage or willingness to allocate energy to argue with me. We can’t learn from people we disrespect or who show disrespect to us. It blocks our thinking. We don't want to relate to them. I show you respect so I can learn from you, and if I do, I value you.
But why does the sage also suggest that we should “suspect”?
In making decisions, we value a diversity of styles and judgment. We learn from each other and in doing so we make better decisions. We experience growth. But interests also play a significant role in decision-making. We all have different interests. What you want may not be what I want. Your self-interest is not my self-interest. Thus, we might have a conflict of interests, which will impact the decision making process and it will cloud the value I may get from our discussion and disagreements.
When you interact with people, you must respect them—try to see whether you can learn from their differences of opinion. But at the same time, in the back of your mind, suspect: those differences of opinion may be driven not by different knowledge and judgments, but by self-interest. If you suspect someone’s contribution to the discussion is exclusively self-serving, you don’t have to buy what they say.
We learn and thus make better decisions when a diversity of styles contributes differing opinions, judgments, and information—but only when it is based on common interest.
In a debate, the first step is to ask yourself what is driving the person debating you. Is it self-interest, or is it differences in knowledge and judgment?
The sage’s prescription ought to be reversed: “Suspect and Respect.” First check what is the interest of the other party. Work on having a common interest first and only when there is one, proceed to interact and discuss and debate so that you can learn something new and avoid making a mistake.