From an early childhood, most of us are taught to respect other people and to respect whatever situation they might be in. I must say, this is extremely valuable advice, and one which I find is quite hard to really stick to. And by that, I don’t mean that most people lack respect, not at all. What I mean is, even though most people try to show respect and be nice to others, they don’t necessarily mean it. And this is actually what matters – whether you mean it or not. I know this sounds superficial, so let me explain. I introduce to you: the taxi driver.
THE TAXI DRIVER
Around a year ago, I was taking the taxi to work. The driver was quite talkative, and he told me this short story about a friend of his that made me entirely change the way I look at people. He told me that his 35-year-old friend had suffered an accident around 10 years earlier, one which left him disabled – his hip-joint was terribly damaged and he basically had extremely difficulty walking (he had to take extremely small and slow steps, like older people do). His profession had always been working on building constructions as an electrical and mechanic, but due to his disability he was forced to quit, since he could barely walk to his place of work, let alone climb up any steps or machinery, or walk a distance of a few dozen feet to get some tools. Soon he was forced to rely solely on government pensions.
So he went to the pensions department (it is called so here in Poland), where he had to prove that he was disabled enough to get a pension. When he got to the building, he realized that he had to climb 2 floors up (there was no elevator) to get to where he had to go. He couldn’t do it by himself and he thought it would be awkward to ask strangers for help, so he called a few of his friends (one of them the taxi driver telling me the story) to help him up.
When they got upstairs, it turned out that he would have to wait for a few hours in line, so his friends had to leave and go back to work. They promised they would come back later for him to help him down.
When his turn had finally come and he got into the appropriate office, he told the attendant what he was there for. He told him that he would like to receive a pension because he is not qualified for any job at the moment. Here is what he heard in return: “Unfortunately you are not going to be eligible for a pension, since you were able to climb up 2 floors by yourself, you cannot be that disabled”. It didn’t help when he told them that his friends had to help him climb up. His application for a pension was immediately rejected.
I should also note, that here in Poland, you cannot really get your way in court in cases like these. Most court-cases of this nature simply take many years to reach a conclusion, and most of the time the government entity unfortunately wins.
Two years later, this guy was homeless, living in back-alleys and looking for food in trash containers.
WHY IS RESPECT IMPORTANT
Now, a person can think whatever they want about the taxi driver’s story. One might believe it, one might say that this person could have done more to help his cause. In the end, however, what it taught me was this: you can never fully grasp someone’s really situation until you have talked to them and learned about their life, and how they actually got to the point where they are.
The above story aside, though, there is one major reason why learning the art of respect is so important in my opinion (other than the obvious reason of making more friends, which is very valuable in itself):
When we disrespect others based on their life situation, when we think negatively of a person based on what he dresses like, what he does, what looks like, we are artificially inflating our ego.
We are, in the back of our heads, implanting the idea, that we are so superior, so incredibly strong when compared to other people, that nothing like that will ever face us. We are simply lacking enough data to make proper judgement, so we simply think those people inferior to us and inflate our ego.
And what is the result? The result is that, when we are finally faced with a situation that we thought would never reach us, our ego simply doesn’t allow us to believe this. You go into denial, you try to avoid the thought, fight it, and it pretty much makes you life extremely messy. You are most likely afraid to ask for help because of the ego, and the problem could very much grow extraordinarily out of proportion. And this problem, since it’s so big now, will lead to more problems, and the domino effect kicks in. Soon, a person finds themselves with a load of other problems, all the time not being able to acknowledge that something is actually wrong with them. Be very careful for this!
Learning respect, like any other thing, takes practice. And, as with everything else, it might seem hard at first, but give it a few weeks and you will see considerable improvement. Here is something to get you stated:
- Whenever you see someone you usually think is inferior to you (for example someone poor or overweight or anything else), take a moment to think: what might have gotten him to this place? Why am I not in that place? I’m much thinner than this overweight person, but what if I didn’t watch tv or use the internet at all – what I also care of I was overweight or not? What if I didn’t come across person X, who resulted in me finding that ideal job, what I also have all the money I have now? Could it be that this person’s parents’ suffered an accident when he was young and he didn’t get a chance to develop as I did? Basically, any question will do – as long as it overrides your automatic reaction of disrespect or contempt.
- Realize that life is probably one of the biggest gambles out there. An extreme great deal depends on sheer luck, such as: who your parents were, what were your genes, who you met in your life, what you did during a specific period, what your role models in childhood were, what movies you watched as a teenager, what kind of school you went to, etc. When you can grasp all this, you’ll see a change in your approach.
- When you see someone you find yourself enticed to disrespect, think about your own “shortcomings” that might be considered outrageous by other people. I’m sure that each of us has at least a few traits that are disliked by millions of people. Realize that this is all subjective, you will then start accepting flaws in people and give everyone a chance to show their interesting side – which is what you should always be aiming for.
- Get yourself busy. It is when we start examining and constantly comparing ourselves to other people that we tend to feel disrespect for them. If you are busy with stuff and activities that interest you, you simply won’t have the time to do that – after all, why should you care what someone else is wearing today and what their face looks like when you have an awesome book to read, or a great meeting to look-up to?
- Do this small exercise: think of 3 or 4 people whom you have avoided so far based on some initial impression they left on you. It could be someone from your school, work place, a friend of a friend – anyone actually. Then, make it a goal for yourself to actually get to know those people, despite what you might be feeling right now towards them. It is likely that they have noticed your dislike for them and so they might also be wary of you, so don’t get discouraged to easily in the beginning. You will be surprised how likeable they might turn out to be, and this will definitely change your way of thinking for the better.
- Your ultimate goal is going to be to simply avoid judging people based on their appearance and surface. So whenever you find yourself unable to stop judging someone, simply try to avoid this thought. Get busy with something else, let your mind wander. It is much better than the self-destructive pattern that a person might get their selves into.
Respecting others is not just about being polite. It is about being able to keep a grasp on reality as it is, of not slipping into some imaginary world that doesn’t exist, since this will make us extremely vulnerable to anything that might prove our perception of reality false. Now, I’m not saying not to care about what people look like. Obviously, we all like everyone to be easy on the eye and attractive. Just make sure not to judge others based on your own rules and give everyone the benefit of the doubt – you’ll be much better off with it 🙂