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Sunday, September 13, 2009

RESPECT

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Congressman Joe Wilson didn't have it when he shouted "You lie!" to President Obama in the middle of his speech to Congress.

Someone spray painted this word on a step going up to my university office building. I don't know why. Sometimes graffiti is art, but most of the time it's disrespectful.

Meditate on the word.

Respect.

Respect is the balm we hold in our hands every moment.

Some people believe if you treat someone with disrespect you lose the right to be treated with respect yourself.

I have a story that demonstrates what I feel about respect. The story belongs to a man - let's call him Vick - for whom I frankly don't have much respect. But this story, like an iridescent bubble, surrounds and protects him from my memories and wrath.

Vick was my boss for three years. While he treated me with respect, I cringed when he led our staff with a cold, condescending and dictatorial style. Out of a staff of 20, only a couple people liked him. I'll never forget in my first week on the job one secretary said she wished his plane would crash. Out of respect for his position, I found a way to be pleasant and cordial in our daily professional relationship, and at some level I respected his expertise in his field. But I would never want him for a friend, even though he could be charming and even warm at times. Charm on the heels of cold arrogance only increased the chill.

So, this is the story he told me, the bubble around him that embodies my definition of respect.

Vick went to France with his American wife, a professor of French, every summer for several weeks for her academic research. This was one realm where he felt intimidated, convinced the French people he encountered scoffed at his American accented French. How strange it was to picture him, Mr. I-RULE-THE-WORLD, feeling inferior. His robust physique, while perhaps lending itself to his power in the U.S., only increased his feeling of mortification in Paris. And isn't it rather charming that he revealed his vulnerability to me this way?

He explained to me that he learned from the French how to enter a restaurant: Walk in the door quietly. Listen to the room. Let the room receive you. Serenely, calmly, genteelly ask the host for a table. He was so careful about this it became his appeasement, his little sacrifice at the altar of the French gods, hoping he might be accepted in spite of his Americanized French.

One year Vick's parents-in-law visited them in Paris, and they had no clue about the "respect the room" rule he had learned and honored. All those years of showing deference entering a restaurant were blown away in a gust when the door opened and his mother-in-law chattered away full voice while everyone in the room gaped at them. Our tall, broad, bearded professorial Vick in a tweed sport coat held his head as high as he could while his innards melted in humiliation.

This is what I think of, what epitomizes respect for me. Entering quietly. Listening. Then proceeding.

Even the air we move through deserves our respect.

And now I am reminded of a little Mark Strand poem:


Keeping Things Whole

In a field
I am the absence
of field.
This is
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.

When I walk
I part the air
and always
the air moves in
to fill the spaces
where my body's been.

We all have reasons
for moving.
I move
to keep things whole.

- Mark Strand
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66 comments:

Susan said...

This is a very thought-provoking post, Ruthie.

I guess one of the main ways to show respect for me is listening, really listening, to the other person in a conversation with me and not planning what to say next as they're speaking. I hate it when someone does it to me, and I try very hard not to be that person.

Ruth said...

Susie, that skill takes practice, and I'm not always good at it. It's always so nice if someone listens to me without jumping to their own related or semi-related topic. But it is terribly tempting to do it myself when I'm listening to someone else. I'm just so interested in my own story and viewpoint.

Susan said...

LOL, yeah, I struggle with it, too! I'm always interested in mine as well....hopefully I do a good job of hiding it!

Ruth said...

You do, no worries there. :)

CottageGirl said...

Respect.

That is it in a word.

It should be put on the endangered species list.

We should have rallies for it.

There should be PSA's about it.

Stimulus money should be rewarded for those who show it.

Aretha knew about it back in the dark ages.

Where has it gone?

J.G. said...

So hard to be self-aware and remember that it's not all about me.

We get so used to being brash, when it's so much more uplifting to be part of a community of equals.

Beautiful, thoughtful post. Thank you.

Ruth said...

CottageGirl, it's complicated, isn't it? Everyone will have a different opinion about it, afraid if I listen to you, you won't listen to me. We all just want our voice to be heard and acknowledged.

Egos just have to pull back. What is the bigger picture, the whole?

Ruth said...

J.G., we think we're at the top of the food chain. (I just read my friend Alek's post about that.) And then me personally, I am at the top of that. It can be almost painful to let someone else go first or to speak and then really listen to them to the point of understanding, especially if we basically disagree with their worldview.

California Girl said...

Love the poem.

As for your old boss, I have a hard time understanding people like that because I too have worked for more than one. The egocentric; the insecure; the "I'm going to diminish you in order to build myself up". I just don't care what their issues are. I am very black & white.

My wonderful Buddhist therapist says we should try to understand the " emotional needs" of the other person and then realize this is their karma.

Your ex-boss sounds more wrapped up in his own feelings than those of anyone else. But then, maybe his very loud MIL was his karma!

Twisted Serenity said...

Very good read, really made me think! I do feel also that respect, along with common courtesy is on the endangered species list.

NJ said...

Great Post Ruth! In such a "me" society I find I'm really thrilled when I get treated with respect. And kindness. So lately I've been really trying to focus on dishing out as much of these two things myself.

ellen abbott said...

Respect...it's really not that hard. Unfortunately I think people are confused about what it means. To too many people, when they say they want respect, what they really want is for you to fear them.

Ruth said...

California Girl, in Vick's case, I think besides his ego, he also highly valued the ideal in his field. His ego and that standard came together, so that he wanted HIS office in the field to stand out in the country. It became HIS program, HIS reputation on the line. And you'd better get out of the way, or help make it/him the best.

Ruth said...

Hi, Amy, thank you for your comment. We have gotten too busy, and overwhelmed. It's hard to find energy and mindfulness when so much is crowding in - information, tragedy, disappointment, disaster. Your husband is a soldier, and I can imagine how that fills your heart and mind. How do we slow down enough to listen and understand someone who thinks differently?

Ruth said...

Good, NJ.

I get irked when I receive an email from one of my advisees with NO greeting and no civility, just, "I need . . . " - without even a signature! No indication of a name. It really leaves a bad feeling, and I have little desire to give them what they "need." Now maybe they felt desperate. But how hard is it to slow down for 5 seconds, breathe, and be courteous?

Ruth said...

Ellen, I hear that. "Give me some reSPECT!"

Montag said...

Your old boss' way of "respecting the room" is unusually redolent of opening a bottle of wine and letting it "breathe"...let the room receive you.
And his chattering mother-in-law just experiences everything in a gulp.
Interesting.
So respect gives us "breathing room".

Kat said...

I want you to know that I really enjoyed this post. Respect for the moment, nature, people and countries among a few, is very important to my spirit. It feeds me to know that It isn't all about me. Thanks for reminding us all.
Respectfully yours,
Kat

amuse me said...

Your article and then all the ensuing comments address an area my husband and I have been discussing quite a bit lately. And, not just since Wilson's disrespectful shout-out and then no apology. I can't really add anything insightful here, just wanted you to know I was nodding my head in agreement. :) M

ds said...

Listening, "respecting the room," respecting one another...we need to SLOW DOWN to be able to do that, and pay attention...I cannot add anything to this discussion, merely nod in agreement and try harder.
Love the poem. Thanks, Ruth.

*jean* said...

one is reminded that children are impulsive and sometimes disrespectful...

Mr. Wilson and some of his friends are excellent examples of how not to behave...a lesson for my 11 yr. old son...adults who do not behave well are always pointed out by this mother...it's not always children who misbehave...and it isn't okay..

it is sad that a roomful of powerful adults stoop to acting like naughty children...one of them i noticed waving her piece of paper from the upper tier was a representative from my state of MN...a perfect example of how not to behave, Ms. Bachmann...


a word to ponder, indeed...respect...i think Ms. Franklin said it best...find out what it means to me..

sock it to me...

C.M. Jackson said...

ruth--respect like manners seems to be a forgotten art. Wonderful post-c

Christina said...

a word i try to be conscious of always. i love the stairs. it is just art, powerful art.
hi ruth! xo

caroldiane said...

Lovely reflection on respect - I really like the "entering quietly. listening. then proceeding." I will take that on as a practice!

Ruth said...

Ohhh, Montag, ohh. Yes.

Ruth said...

Kat, respectfully received, thank you.

Ruth said...

M, I find that always in my mind this is who I am: respectful, careful, circumspect. But then I am taken by surprise. Some rude thing or person happens. Suddenly I am insulted and angry. It's hard to be respectful then.

Ruth said...

DS, people have to literally slow down - on the road, in the grocery store aisle. On my way home from buying groceries today, where I had had the most blissful time (yes), and the drive home was glorious, just before my driveway twelve crotch rocket motorcycles passed a car in front of me at maybe 80-90 MPH, the last one barely making it back to his lane in front of me. I felt stunned, and my bliss went out the window. It came back quickly, but I was terrified for a few minutes.

Ruth said...

Jean, I have no doubt that people are nervous, frightened, pushed to the edge of their tolerance. It's in that state that we are tested to be who we really are. If I am respectful even when I am insulted, that is an accomplishment.

Of course Mr. Obama was given a chance to be gracious on a silver platter.

Ruth said...

C., it's perceived very differently in different cultures too. I remember when Ronald Reagan visited the Middle East and crossed his leg on his knee facing the sole of his shoe toward a foreign leader. Because we lived in Istanbul, we knew it was considered highly disrespectful. Clearly Reagan didn't know. I suppose he can be forgiven, but what about his advisers?

Ruth said...

Yes, Christina, in this case, I agree. It took me by surprise, and I was not offended. But when I started contemplating this post, I realized it was ironic, that word on the stairs like that.

I guess ironic art is a good kind of art.

Ruth said...

Caroldiane, I read recently that Gurdjieff's father told him never to let his anger be his immediate response. So Gurdjieff spent his life waiting 24 hours to respond after being insulted. He never acted on his anger, because by the next day he had nothing to say, it was gone.

shicat said...

I could really go off on this topic,but since I am not retiring for a few years I choose to remain silent.

Nice post makes you reflect on your actions and how they are viewed by others.

Sidney said...

A lot of arrogant people are actually insecure...
Anyway... we live only once... so I think we should try to be remembered as a nice and good person and not as a jerk.

Shaista said...

Entering quietly, listening, then proceeding. The perfect advice for any respectful relationship. And how hard to do when I am impetuous by nature! I loved the poem.. and have copied it into my journal so I don't lose it :)

Nancy said...

Thank you for something to think about. I would love to say that I always listen, but to be honest, I am a work in progress. Good food for thought.

shoreacres said...

It sounds silly, but I gained a visceral understanding of respect from my kitty, DixieRose.

Dixie's a good indoor cat. She doesn't climb, she prefers one chair for sleeping, and she's nice and tidy when it comes to kitty hygiene. She loves to be brushed, she always comes in to say good-night, and she understands "No!"

On the other hand, she's not a lap cat. She doesn't want to be held under any circumstances, and anyone who tries will suffer the consequences. When she arrived in my life, I wanted her to be a lap cat and for a year I tried to turn her into a lap cat, until a wise person said, "The only way to establish a good relationship with a cat is to allow it to be who it is, and not who you want it to be."

The advice wasn't the end of discipline and limits for kitty, but it was the beginning of allowing her to determine where, and when, and how she wanted to interact with humans. It took a couple of years, but we worked things out. Now, she's an affectionate companion - but in her own way.

When it comes to the space we share, we've learned to enter quietly, listen, and then proceed. We've learned respect.

Ruth said...

Ah, Cathy, I'm sorry you have to live with that.

Ruth said...

Sidney, that's a good point. I thought about saying something about that regarding Vick. But as you say, he, and we, are responsible for our behavior, regardless of how we got where we are.

Ruth said...

Shaista, me too. I can be impetuous and overly dramatic. Sometimes when I see myself on video I cringe. Why is listening so hard?

Ruth said...

We all are, Nancy. We compare ourselves with the part of others that we can see. We don't see their inner conflicts, inner faults. We think some people are nearly perfect because we don't know the whole story.

Ruth said...

Linda, oh dear. Now you have me thinking about one of my worst faults: expectations. I've gotten better about expecting others to conform to my imagined behavior for them, but I still do it, get disappointed, then learn again.

I wonder, is a cat more, or less, likely to adjust to our attempts to shape their behavior than humans are.

João said...

strange how someone so thoughtful, could be so unappreciated...yet he left his mark in you, perhaps he needed yoga and that wasn't available at the time...

Barry said...

Beautifully written, said Barry as he quietly entered the blog, listed to the blog, and let the blog receive him.

bindu said...

Your words are very true!

Loring Wirbel said...

I'm trying, I don't do so well. Now that all of U.S. politics has turned into a shouting match, friends just love to reference the "Million Moron March" and turn name-calling into an art. Now, I don't have much respect for someone who equates Obama with Hitler, but I want to find out where their anger and their myths come from. Where my patience runs out is in trying to pierce the myth-bubble that rules so many people's lives. Facts (stubborn things) are not hard to structure your decision-making processes around, but so many people retreat into their fairy-tale castles and pull up the drawbridge so as to avoid facts, it's hard to know how to engage them with respect.

Jeanie said...

This is a beautiful and thoughtful post, Ruth. It feels like respect is getting a short shrift these days in a lot of venues -- personal interactions, public forums, and even on the road (it's pretty terrifying to watch a driver do the weave-in-weave-out on the highway traffic when the traffic is moving at a good clip anyway. It's nice to see this perspective explaining respect versus liking someone. Beautifully said.

shoreacres said...

I love your question!

"...is a cat more, or less, likely to adjust to our attempts to shape their behavior than humans are?"

Allowing for individual variation within species, this one is easy.
Dogs are more like to adjust, and cats are less likely.

I suppose that's why they say dogs have owners and cats have staff ;-)

Ginnie said...

Charles Gibson did a piece on the evening news tonight about the several things that have happened in the last week show people out of control. He didn't use the word respect, or lack thereof, but that's bottom line what he was talking about. When we lose control in public, like Wilson did and Kanye West and Serena, it IS a lack of respect...of not entering the room quietly. I like that story and hope to always remember it!

Oliag said...

Unfortunately this is a valid discussion for the times...When did disagreeing with someone become a reason to be disrespectful to someone?...This is something I would think is important for a school child to learn when dealing with a teacher...as well as something a country should consider when dealing with another culture...Why is it so hard?

rauf said...

the monkey is not in chains Ruth.
We humans have placed ourselves in many traps within traps.

Ruth said...

João, actually Vick did appreciate me. He was always respectful with me. I think he understood the importance of having a faithful assistant, especially since I didn't join the fray against him, which had happened with his last assistant. She began a war, and left, leaving a lot of rubble in her wake.

Ruth said...

Barry, invariably, even in the depths of despair writing about your circumstances, you find a way to make me smile.

Ruth said...

Bindu, I think we can learn from anyone and everyone, even those we despise. I don't want to despise anyone, but when I look in my heart, there it is.

Deslilas said...

"Respect des autres et de soi même".

Respect for others and for oneself are so closed, as we used to say.

Ruth said...

Loring, I've loved seeing that phrase "Million Moron March" at your wall on FB. You are an activist. You show up whether there is a crowd or not. You keep faithfully nudging your community and the world along. I admire your desire to treat both sides with equal respect, with an equal ear, and with equal disdain! Ha. I thought about you a lot writing this, actually, and how I feel the same about those who seem to have nothing but dirty clouds to ride on, yet they scream and shout as if they're riding an iron locomotive. They both look steamy, but only one has any substance.

Ruth said...

Jeanie, you remind me of what I told DS, when a dozen motorcycles going 80-90 passed a truck in my lane coming toward me Sunday, and the last one barely made it back to his lane. I don't mind too much if he risks his own life, but what about mine and everyone else's on the road?

Ruth said...

Linda, and I heard on the news last night that rescue dogs are more likely to adjust than purebreds. We should all have a rescue dog from the shelter. I have always been more of a dog person than a cat person. But I am in love with our Bishop, and I know one other kitty is giving her some competition. I think cats are more likely to shape our behavior, you're right.

Ruth said...

Boots, I don't know why Kanye lost control (is he ever in control?), but I can sort of understand Serena being in the heat of battle. Still, no competition is more important than how we treat people, in my opinion.

But then, Congressman Wilson has a lot of supporters out there who think what he did was terrific. That is what really disturbs me, more than one individual's loss of control. Others would do the same thing and no doubt would love to start a shouting match together! Well, I guess they already have in town halls.

It reminds me of that scene in "Gandhi" when the riled up crowd of Indian men wants to go bust some English arse, but he only allows them to defend themselves, not to incite violence.

Ruth said...

Oliag, you're right. British kids used to be - I don't know if they still are - trained in the art of debate. It was a straightforward, unemotional exchange, an argument of intelligence, eloquence and even grace.

The 19th and 20th centuries sped things up so much that many things, like respect, got left in the ditch. A few thoughtful people try to tug us back to decency when we need it most. But it's too bad that it often has to get very bad before it gets better.

Ruth said...

rauf, animals aren't stupid. People are stupid. Do you think there are any stupid animals?

Oh! Have you seen the video of the big egg? It's here - crazy! Please watch it, rauf.

Ruth said...

Daniel, also "if you respect others, you respect yourself."

Peter said...

Yes, you should always respect ... although maybe easier with some than with others! (I deeply respect you, Ruth!)

Ruth said...

Oh Peter, thank you. I deeply respect you as well.

~*~Magpie's Nest said...

your words and thoughts are filling me up with the most wonderful feelings, I was drawn to you by spider webs ;) what a lucky fly I am
I have high hopes that civility has a chance these next four years ... respect is a perfect stepping stone to begin with!
thank you for starting my day so thoughtfully!
Happy Weekend to you!
~*~ Patty

Ruth said...

Oh hello, Patty. Thank you for your thoughtfulness here too.

In the last few days I've been putting a breath or two between myself and whatever I encounter. I hadn't thought about it as respect, but coming back to this post and your thoughts, I'm thinking about that.