How to Get Along

Shows of Respect

Photo by Jim McCarthy

Even when you don’t know someone – wait, especially when you don’t know someone – it works well to show respect. Works with people you know too. Even works with people you don’t like. As a practical matter, when you show respect to someone – whoever they are — you’re more likely to get a positive outcome. And it’s so easy to do. Wonder we don’t do it more.

What is a show of respect? First, it’s a show. A demonstration. It’s visible, intended to get noticed. It’s something a little out of the ordinary, on purpose. Like holding a door or bowing a head. It’s visibly making an effort.

A show of respect says: “This moment is special. I’m glad to be in it with you. Even if fleeting.” Sometimes a show of respect happens in a flash; an eye-to-eye glance that says “I believe in you.”

One way to show respect is to get someone’s name right. Or at least try. And that includes pronouns, last name, pronunciation, and maybe their title. Ask someone: “How would you like to be called?” Making these efforts says, “I’m trying to make friends with you.”

When I go to a funeral I wear black. When I go to a gym I wear sweats. When I go to a birthday party I take a gift. It says “I am bending for you.” And sometimes it’s sticking out and showing respect for something against the grain, like taking a knee at a football game.

Sometimes shows of respect seem not extraordinary at all, but we still see them. It’s answering a question when asked. It’s calling at 10am when I said I would call at 10am. It’s leaving the kitchen clean, or a note.

The things is, these are all voluntary. No one will notice or care if you don’t do these things. Rather, think of them as opportunities. These are free, easy, low-risk ways to increase your chances of getting better outcomes with every single person you meet. Shows of respect can cost next-to-nothing and bring valuable benefits.

Oh. There’s another thing. It works extra well if you believe it; you know, if you do actually respect the person. If you truly believe that there is something sacred in each person you meet, your belief will come out in shows of respect. You don’t have to force or fake anything. The best shows of respect come straight from the heart.

Competition is over-rated. Collaboration please.

I’m afraid that our United States Congress has reached a point where they are unable to solve the problems of the nation. I’m afraid that the United Nations and other coalitions of nations lack political will to actually save our species from climate change. And I’m afraid when I see unnecessary conflict in our communities.

The root of the problem is over-trust in an outdated paradigm: competition. Our political parties are competing with each other at the expense of the nation. World nations are competing with each other at the expense of the Earth. It’s not new. Civilizations have competed with each other since the dawn of history; conquering, oppressing, building wealth at the expense of others. I myself was raised with an ethic of competition, that the default objective in almost any activity was to be better than others.

Competition is not de facto bad, mind you. A competitive mindset can serve society extremely well, especially when there’s an abundance of resources. Competition has spurred magnificent human creations and inventions over the ages. Competition is a great way to generate ever higher achievements, no doubt. Yet the pendulum has swung too far. Competition has been TOO successful in generating know-how and technology to the point where now there is a frightening scarcity of resources.

Today, competition is very much over-rated. There’s a hypothesis woven into the very fabric of every aspect of American culture. It goes like this: Let two or more products/people/ideas compete and this will result in what’s best for the group. This hypothesis is the engine of innovation in business, in sports, in law, in health care, in schools, in families, everywhere.

Yet the hypothesis is not always right. We kid ourselves into thinking that when two competing interests “duke it out” it somehow betters the gene pool or otherwise makes us all better as a human race. In reality, the rule goes like this: Let two or more products/people/ideas compete and this will result in what’s best for the winner. I don’t believe in trickle-down economics and I don’t believe in trickle down benefits from winners to losers. The first way, the popular version of the hypothesis, is a myth in my opinion.

So how about a different paradigm? How about the pendulum swing the other way for a change? Towards collaboration. Imagine a groundswell of popularity for collaboration. Imagine companies rewarding teams rather than individuals. Imagine collaborative sports and recreational activities rise in popularity on a par with competitive sports. Imagine school children taught and modeled collaboration and communications skills, and rewarded for team/group success rather than individual success. Imagine people who feel marginalized by competitive environments feeling valued as collaborators. So many people in America have shut down and withdrawn from civic affairs because it’s viewed as competitive, even hostile. I have seen people withdraw from all sorts of groups and activities for fear of too much hostility. Why do we have to be so mean and so competitive with each other?

Collaborative cultures hold a place for every person to participate. No one is a loser, or viewed as “less than.” All have gifts to give. In collaborative cultures people work with each other for the good of the group, not against each other for entertainment or for individual gain. Let’s you and I collaborate with each other against a common enemy – such as climate change – instead of against each other hoping that we will make things better.

And I know that collaboration has a bad rap because it seems clumsy and slow. But collaboration is not about getting things done quick, it’s about choosing well what to get done. Working alone, I’m apt to make great progress on a useless task. Working with others I’m apt to get useful new info, learn shortcuts, and better understand how to plug in and help.

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