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September 12, 2010

“You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar”

That phrase always takes me back to my grandma.  She had several “truisms”, but that one has stayed firmly planted in my head over the years.  The idea of “catching flies” may have become more concrete for me as I passed time on grandma’s farm porch in the heat of Oklahoma summers counting the flies I “caught” with the fly swatter.

As a child I think I took her advice to mean I was more apt to get what I wanted if I was nice than if I was ugly.  An important piece of information when you’re dependent on the grown ups in your life for the things you want.  At some point I began to broaden, and perhaps deepen, my understanding of what she meant.  I learned that being kind to others just made life more pleasant for everyone and left me feeling better, happier.  Those childhood memories were the seeds of understanding that there is power in respect and that power lies within us.

Consider these three things about R-E-S-P-E-C-T (thank you Aretha)

  • We decide the kind of person we will be by “recreating” ourselves daily.
  • Our power to “build” ourselves is made stronger by respecting others and our world.
  • When we disrespect, we hand our decision of who we will be to others.

Viktor Frankl, Austrian psychiatrist, was imprisoned and tortured at Auschwitz under Nazi Germany’s Third Reich.  Frankl lost his wife, both parents, and his brother in the death camps or the gas chamber.  Amazingly, he came from that experience telling us the only freedom that remains ours in any circumstance is, “the freedom to determine one’s own attitude and spiritual well-being.”  We get to decide how we will respond to life, who we will be in the happy, embarrassing, and painful moments.

The power to build ourselves comes from understanding that how we behave and what we do is about us, our choices and not what someone “made” us do. The satisfaction I felt as a child when I did “nice” things came from my decision regardless of what anyone else chose to do.  Each time we do something that moves us closer to the person we want to become our own self-respect grows.

Respect and kindness aren’t about being a doormat or avoiding confrontation.  Respect is involved when we decide not to take on responsibilities that belong to someone else, or when we choose not to carry worries that we can’t doing anything about.  Respect is present when we confront problems in appropriate ways instead of ignoring or avoiding them to keep from “rocking the boat”.

We give our power away when we let someone else choose our response.    How often have you heard someone say, “When they give me respect, I’ll give them respect.”  They might as well announce, “Today I’m going to let someone else, anyone else, decide what kind of person I will be.”  We sometimes forget that who we decide to be doesn’t depend on what anyone else says or does, but on how we behave.  Whether a person deserves our respect or not is separate from our decision to be a person that respects.  That it requires more from us to treat an undeserving person in a respectful way suggests that we reap the benefits of even greater self respect in those moments.

Random acts of kindness and the idea of “paying it forward” have become more visible in the 21st century.  We have also seen a tremendous growth in self-help books and products designed to help us discover our best selves.  What if the greatest act of self care we can choose is to treat our world and the people in it with respect?  Now that would be a win-win situation.  Do something nice for yourself today.  Offer respect to those you meet, especially those you’re not sure deserve it.

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