The Faces of Respect



“Just try to get along,” my supervisor says with a sigh.
I manage a half-nod that says both “You’ve got to be kidding me” and “I’ll try”–and further manages to say both at once.
“Get along”? I don’t want to “get along”. I want to wring her scrawny neck. Why do I have to waste energy playing nice while she’s so…so…disrespectful?

I’m not literally cornered, I know. There’s nothing blocking my exit from the room; I can leave at any time. Mrs. J’s daughter is ranting and raving about something, I’m not even sure what anymore. She started with the state of a shirt and sort of escalated from there to what can only be called an interesting interpretation of my character, work ethic and moral integrity. Snide, I decide, is what she’s being: very, very snide. And rude. And unpleasant. And disrespectful.

Oh good lord. That is perhaps not very original as phrases go, but truth be told, I have no need to exert myself. Mrs. G has already provided me with plenty of labels to slap on her: among the most applicable, I think, are “drama queen” and “so damned particular”.
“I know what you think of me, I know you think I’m worthless and needy and a drama queen wasting your time being so damned particular…”
Really, she’s spent 15 minutes yelling at me and another 15 explaining why she has not, in fact been yelling at me. This in spite of the evidence of my ears. Does she think I’m stupid or suffering short term memory loss? Well, everybody needs a hobby. Although, she’s no amateur at being disrespectful.

This is CNA week, and this year the theme is “I Choose Respect”. When I saw these words, I confess to being a bit puzzled. Respect I got, but choosing respect? All the stories that pop readily in my head seem to suggest that encouraging respect in others might be a better use of energy. Some days it’s hard to believe just how much disrespect is thrown our way.
But choosing respect? What does that look like? What, exactly, are we respecting?

Respect, I think, is a lot like trust…it is the assumption that you are dealing with a human being like yourself, under stress, prone to mistakes and still capable of goodness, like yourself. Respect is, in short, recognizing the worth of another person.
Not always easy, in a job when you so frequently see the worst in people.
The resident yelling before us: human.
The coworker scowling beside us: human.
The supervisor preaching behind us: human.
The corporate boss ignoring us: human.
Even at their worst, when all we want to see is the label, an attitude of respect demands that we remember the person underneath.

Choosing respect is not easy…lashing out is. Saying everything we feel in a heated moment is easy; maintaining control over ourselves and our emotions is not, especially when it feels like we’re the only ones doing it. When it feels like nobody will see or care about how we didn’t loose our tempers. But we don’t strive to be better so others will praise us…we strive to be better so that we can bear the flawed people who look back us from the mirrors.

In each situation that slams into me, I shall try to take a breath and not become the mirror image of the weakness before me. I shall be firm, decisive and nobody’s doormat…but I shall not be disrespectful. I am the professional, after all.

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