What You Want, Baby I Got It

A friend at work bustles about, saying yes to every request. She has a heart bigger than Mount Rainier and makes things happen with the reliability of a cherry tree cascading blossoms in springtime. She also begins nearly every conversation with “I’m sorry.”

I asked her why. “Because I’m always afraid of disappointing people,” she said. “So if I acknowledge that right up front — that I’ve fallen short in some way I don’t see — at least we’ll get that out of the way and I can carry on with what I need to do.”

I asked again: why this current of anxiety? Her mom, she explained, told her that she needed to work twice as hard to be considered half as good.

My friend was born into that American caste where the dominant culture makes judgments about her in a single glance. She cannot assume others’ respect; she’s too aware of that deep pit where faces peer down and react with condescension, fear or contempt just because. For her, every act of generosity, skill, or exquisite customer service is a hand or foot lodged in the walls of the pit, to hoist herself up to stand where the others already are. But she feels like she gets no farther than the outer lip; the pit always looms perilously close to gather her in again if she mis-steps.

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Rattlesnake Lake in Washington. Photo by Jeremiah Ogle.

A few years ago, the leader of my organization asked a handful of us to run a process to discover and propound our core values. He was leaving our organization soon; under his watch, it seemed we had never been so happy — performing meaningful work in a community of caring people. The leader wanted us to understand and preserve what made our organization so special.

We produced six outstanding core values, accompanied by meaningful illustrations. Unsurprisingly, “respect” emerged as one of our six core values. Respect effort; respect ideas; respect different ways of writing or speaking or doing; respect boundaries; and for crying out loud, please say hello to me when you pass me in the hallway or as I sit in the cubicle outside your boss’ desk. See me, not your made-up idea of me, based on notions you don’t even know you have and might be embarrassed to acknowledge.

I think of my friend at work who always says sorry. Respect is something she grew up not expecting. That’s profoundly wrong. Each of us, by virtue of our birth — by virtue of the play of our souls here on earth, our beings so “fearfully and wonderfully made” — deserves at least the display of respect. 

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Photo by Jeremiah Ogle

Another friend plays a game with himself. If he’s about to be swept up into a cloud of judging, he thinks, “This person is actually a CEO” and he displays respect. Why a CEO is more worthy of respect than you or me is a question for another day. But let’s ask ourselves who, categorically, we respect. Then imagine everyone we see is that person in disguise — and think and behave accordingly.

Maybe we could start to question the stories we cultivate and carry. Maybe eventually we will see the actual person obscured by our own faulty vision: a person who is worthy of respect just by living.

Maybe “acting” respect is the necessary first step to believing respect. I’m going to try.

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See below for a poem by Tracy K. Smith; the universe this morning offered us an example.

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Woo hoo! Readers, now that I have reached nearly 100 posts (!) I invite you to browse my past essays. The easiest way is to explore the “word cloud” featured at the very bottom of this post. Find a theme or two that interests you and sift through the sands…

Also, do you want to receive notifications by email each time I make a post? Just scroll all the way down this page (next to the “word cloud”), look to the left and click on the black button that says “Join Me!” 

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This is Tobie, who lives in Seattle, Washington. Photo by Jeremiah Ogle

In the August 2, 2020, New York Times Magazine, poet Naomi Shihab Nye selected this poem by former U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith, from her collection “Wade in the Water”:

Beatific,
by Tracy K. Smith

I watch him bob across the intersection,
Squat legs bowed in black sweatpants.

I watch him smile at nobody, at our traffic
Stopped to accommodate his slow going.

His arms churn the air. His comic jog
Carries him nowhere. But it is as if he hears

A voice in our idling engines, calling him
Lithe, Swift, Prince of Creation. Every least leaf

Shivers in the sun, while we sit, bothered,
Late, captive to this thing commanding

Wait for this man, Wait for him.

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I wrote this piece for Five Minute Friday, a faith-based community site. Follow this link to see other short essays about “Respect.”  

4 thoughts on “What You Want, Baby I Got It

  1. This was so right on. Thank you for a thoughtful piece.

    Like

  2. Love love LOVE Tobie! I, too, am owned by an Aussie

    I am so very sorry;
    I know I’ve let you down.
    It’s just the same old story
    read by the same old clown
    who never understood his worth,
    but tried to make amends,
    unknowing that his very birth
    made of God a friend
    who would love him unto death
    (and yes, literally),
    and who gave him life and breath,
    whose ransom set him free
    from every chain stacked on the shelf,
    except for those he forged himself.

    Like

  3. Very insightful. I find myself wondering whether I can do a better job in showing respect for others. I will look inward and examine myself.

    Like

  4. I find it easier to be respectful to strangers and those I don’t know well than it is to be respectful of those I know better. It’s almost as if I look for reasons that justify a person not deserving respect. What a limited expression of respect! I pray I see people for who God has made them to be, and. It who I think they should be.

    Amie, FMF #12

    Like

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