Deference vs. rudeness

Limiting my freedom so I do not offend the tastes of those around me.

Deference is “limiting my freedom so I do not offend.” It is voluntarily surrendering one’s own place or privilege in order to show esteem for the needs or tastes of another. Everyone has his or her peculiar tastes. Some can be surprisingly offended when their sensitivities are overlooked. In some cases, perhaps, the offense is over something seemingly trivial, but deference is learning to view things from the other person’s perspective. What seems petty to you may be very important to him or her.

Canadian diplomat Kenneth Kirkwood wrote in his memoirs of an incident at a dinner held for several foreign dignitaries. Just as the gathered officials were preparing to move into the dining room, a British ambassadress learned that there would be 13 people at the meal and she shuddered. Obsessively superstitious, she apologized, saying that she would have to leave. Hastily, Kirkwood ran across the compound to find a secretary from one of the offices to fill a fourteenth place at the table. Informed of the addition, the relieved ambassadress gratefully stayed and took her seat. Silly? Maybe to some, but deference is getting to know the feelings of others. It is learning to set aside your own tastes in order to honor the tastes of others.

Details are important, and showing consideration for the tastes of others is basic to nurturing good relationships on every level. Whether you are making arrangements with a friend for a shopping trip or with a client for a multi-million-dollar business transaction, deference is doing your best to understand and accommodate the preferences of others.

Deference is self-sacrificially yielding to others. Perhaps the most common need for deference is yielding for another to speak. As Benjamin Franklin observed, “He is a fool that cannot conceal his wisdom.” Yielding one’s own opinion to let others give theirs is a practical — and powerful — demonstration of deference.

Talk with your children about the importance of being considerate of others. Little things, like keeping the television at a low volume when someone is trying to read or clearing your things off the table before you leave the room, are important ways of showing deference in a home setting.

Bought to you by the Four Corners Character Council. Character First! definitions and information used by permission. Copyright Character Training Institute.

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