The Power of Respect
by Karen Whiting
An older priest ministered in an asylum. He sat by a patient, a former nun filled with rage, to pray. She turned and vomited on him. He took out his handkerchief and started wiping off her face. A tear rolled down her cheek. His action broke her anger and started her on a road to healing. She explained once she overcame her anger, “No one ever put me first before Father Jim did.” It can be hard to respond to harsh words or actions with respect, but when we do, that’s a great witness and it may touch a person’s heart and melt his pain.
As we struggle with race, riots and anger, our best response is love. Christ said that words begin in our heart, so each morning we can ask God to fill our heart with love so we will speak with kindness. I grew up taking my father’s often repeated phrase to heart, “There’s never too much kindness in the world.” That could also be said for respect.
Choose to be proactive. As a military wife, I moved often and developed the tradition of making Christmas bread for each of my neighbors during the holidays and baking something for new neighbors who moved in. That has always been received with joy, developed friendships and crossed barriers. My neighbors, as usual, are a cross section of society and diversity, so it’s great to build relationships and learn from one another. The power of such actions, even a simple wave or greeting, is seen in the reactions of my neighbors. From Hawaii to New York and Florida to Michigan, wherever I lived, I thanked God for my great neighbors and tried to be a good neighbor. Our actions and words show we appreciate and value the people around us.
Although I enjoy my diverse friends, shortly before the pandemic, I discovered that I can be oblivious to disrespect my friends receive. I met a new friend in a coffee shop to get to know her better and saw her look very downcast when served her drink. I didn’t understand until she pointed out that my drink came in a ceramic mug, as did everyone else’s drink around us. She received a paper cup with her tea and had to argue to get a ceramic mug. Her skin and hair color determined her cup. It shocked me. I realized I never gave a thought to the service other people received and seldom even looked around. I grabbed her hand, looked her in the eyes, and said, “You are so special to me and I value our friendship. I am sorry that anyone would treat you this way.” She has told me that I truly blessed her that day and lifted her spirits. Respect elevates a person because it shows we accept them, and they are important.
Take time to look around and notice if someone is snubbed for any reason, and affirm him or her with a smile and kind word. Continual jabs build up pain and barriers. When someone speaks with anger, pause and pray, for that reveals pain within the individual’s heart. If we respond with sarcasm, cutting remarks, dismiss it or try to ignore it, we add to that pain and the individual feeling disrespected.
When I meet someone, I like to look the person in the eye and listen, really listen as I discover her passion and find out about her. Everyone has a story and something interesting to say. I want to understand people I meet and find the uniqueness in the person to celebrate. Respect shows we value the person, even if we disagree. I find the variety of people more wondrous than all the different creatures and plants God made. God had such great imagination and love of all colors, sizes and shapes and wants us to see all the beauty He designed. He made everyone special, with His image in us, so disrespecting a person also disrespects God.
Respect goes beyond a person to caring about property and items that belong to others or are part of the world. Respecting property shows you value the people who build it and the people who saved to own it. Respecting the earth reveals you care about God’s creation. For example, John Feight wanted to make hospitals more beautiful so people in need of care would feel someone cared about them and respected them when they felt their worst. He has spent thirty years traveling the world to use color and brushes to transform dreary walls into art. He invites patients and others to pick up a brush and add to the murals he creates. He celebrates their talent that adds more beauty to the walls. That lights up their faces.
With masks on, no one sees our smiles, but they can hear pleasantness in our greetings or the simple action of letting someone go ahead of us. I pray each morning for God to give me the opportunity to bless someone, as that’s also an opening to connect and show respect. In the evening, I thank God for the blessings I received and pray for people who blessed me. When we pray for others, it opens up the power of God’s Holy Spirit to show us what’s special about each person and guide our interactions. Respect holds the power to change the world as it changes hearts.
Karen Whiting, author of twenty-six books and international speaker, reaches out to help women and families thrive. Her newest book, 52 Weekly Devotions for Families Called to Serve, helps develop servant hearts.
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