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Respect everyone … no exceptions?

September 24, 2017

“Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.”  —Clarissa Pinkola Estes

My mantra for a while has been respect everyone – no exceptions.

No surprise, it’s been tough.  It has became a project rather than an achievement.

It began with seeing the mountain of expectations, shoulds, and rules hiding just below the surface of my skin waiting for someone to fall short so I can find a reason to see them as undeserving.  Sometimes it has been quite alarming when I see the judgments I hold.

Henry Robinette is an African American guitarist who teaches inmates at prisons around the country to play the guitar.  He teaches self-proclaimed racists and Neo-Nazis.  Robinette says he has stopped labeling his students with their past crimes.  Instead he chooses to see their past behaviors as knuckleheadedness.

I’m taking a page from his song book.  When I do a bad thing, I see that I’ve been a knucklehead, while I remain a human being.  As a human being my greatest longings are for connection and understanding.  When I’m a knucklehead, I keep myself from what I want the most.

Before I sit in judgment I want to remember that I am beyond privileged to sit where I sit.  I have had, in one way or another, access to everything I needed to educate myself, and to be a contributing member of society.  It wasn’t always easy.  I give myself some credit.  At the same time, the resources at my disposable are not there for everyone.  Not even remotely.  Culturally, intellectually, emotionally and genetically, much of who I am is by grace and the luck of the draw.  Not through any effort on my part.

Making it harder for someone to come back from a bottom that was much lower than any I’ve experienced is not one of my personal goals.

The path forward is to find where I’m like them.  When I see our similarities, I find myself better able to understand them, which I am coming to believe is the first step in being able to respect them.  Baby steps.

I recently stood in a check-out line with a small purchase, and remembered I wanted some cash back.  I had a sore back and waited around 20 minutes to reach the checker.  I asked for $20 cash back.  She rang up the item and forgot to include the $20.  She told me I would have to go to Customer Service to correct the problem.  (It was here that I could have saved the day, but it’s important to note that I didn’t.)

I went to customer service and stood in line.  They sent me back to her (don’t ask me to explain).  She directed me to the end of her line and told me I would have to wait in line and then buy something else to get cash back because the previous transaction was complete.  I was flabbergasted, and huffed out of the store in righteous indignation, completely unaware that I had been a knucklehead.

Here’s the truth.  In the very beginning, when she made the mistake of not giving me the cash back, I could simply have purchased a pack of gum while I was standing there, and gotten my $20 with that second purchase.  But I was so caught up in my own self-righteous indignation I could not, would not, see that I was behaving with profound knuckleheadedness.

I don’t agree with, or prefer, my poor behavior, or the checker’s lack of creativity and/or empathy for me.  But I understand how it happened.  And I get that she was probably as embarrassed as I was by the entire interaction, so she wasn’t thinking any straighter than I was.

At times I find it profoundly difficult to get honest and find the similarities between myself and the people who I at times hold in contempt.  So I found another mantra that seems to be helping me remember.  The primary difference between me and them is that I just had better teachers.

For a little more insight on how love and respect can be intertwined in these times that make it tough to remember, read this passage by Mikhail Naimy, “Keep No Accounts with Love”, http://www.awakin.org/read/view.php?tid=531

Much love,


  1. Lyle says:

    So you reacted instead of responding. Isn’t it strange how all the lessons we supposedly know escape us in the heat of the moment? In this case, I think your reaction was justified. I know my (lack of) patience would not have taken my to the customer service counter, but right out the door – and to a nearby ATM – probably still fuming.

    • Robyn says:

      Yes! I reacted instead of responding — well said! In hindsight all I’m left with is a greater awareness of her — i think she was very young, very new at what she was doing, and profoundly uncomfortable because she really didn’t know what to do. And it makes me think of my son when he was young and vulnerable in his first job, and didn’t quite yet know how to handle things. This will stay with me, so in that regard I’m glad it happened.

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