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.
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.
A couple weeks ago there was a hearing on Capitol Hill on How to Build a Move Civil and Collaborative Culture in Congress. I listened to it live and wrote to the staff afterwards, hoping to get involved. It was pretty inspiring.
Sometimes when people read my stuff or are in a meeting that I run, I hear “They really need you down in Washington!” Indeed, many Americans have come to believe that our national Congress is incapable of solving problems on behalf of the nation. This Committee is working on that.
They are currently focusing on three fronts: time, incentives, and relationships.
Time. Members of Congress are way over-scheduled. Simply finding time to talk through issues and really understand each other’s perspectives seems impossible. The sessions in Washington often start on Tuesday morning and adjourn Thursday afternoon and they all go to their home districts each week from Friday through Monday. To be more civil and collaborative, like all things worth investing in, requires quality time.
Incentives. There are currently strong incentives in Congress for gaining wins for your party or your district at any expense, but few incentives for being civil or collaborative. Some interesting ideas were provided at the hearing about a group or respected congressional leaders, from both parties, actually scoring all Members of Congress on civility and collaboration. At least make it a thing to look at and report on.
Relationships. Related to time and incentives – both stacked in the wrong direction – members of Congress don’t have the types of close relationships with each other that are conducive to civility and collaboration. “This place is messed up,” one of the Committee members explained. “We don’t have lunch here.” Lunch Is not built into the schedule and there’s no common place (think school or company cafeteria) where everyone gets together to simply talk, hang out, and get to know each other. Someone suggested that there need to be more informal and confidential meetings (like across a lunch table). “There have to be places where no one is performing,” they explained.
Other ideas at the hearing included better onboarding and orientation for new members of Congress, and professional development training among Congressional staff on topics such as conflict resolution, communications, and collaborative techniques. Congress is an organization with 10,000 employees, one of the Committee Members pointed out, and apparently NO institutionalized professional development training for its staff.
I have this old school belief that Congress works for us, the people. If we want members of Congress to be more civil and collaborative WE have to demand that of them. This means not electing members who put party over country or who put meanness over respect. It means praising our members of Congress for actually talking with their adversaries and making compromises.
One of the Committee Members explained how he is from Minnesota where ice hockey sets the culture. Hockey teams compete hard against each other and at the end of each game they line up and every player shakes hands with every player. Their respect for the game and for each other is more important than winning or losing. “Congress should do that,” the Representative from Minnesota explained. “We should line up and shake hands with each other every session.”
You might call it community fabric or community infrastructure. There’s a lot of talk about community resilience. I’m trying to talk about a community’s ability to weather a storm or adapt to new imperatives. I think that’s how communities last; by weathering and adapting.
Humans are especially good at responding to storms and game changes when we are well-connected to each other. In my opinion, it’s the stuff in between the individual humans that make the community stronger as a group. The connections. The knitting. The networks.
This new video celebrates the volunteers and municipal workers of communities near Portland, Maine. It’s really great!
The 8-minute video takes us back to the start of COVID and tells heart warming tales of leaders emerging and networks igniting. You might see people you know from Chebeague Island, Naples, Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth, Westbrook, Cumberland, or Yarmouth.
If you want to feel good about America’s community-level response to COVID, this video is pretty fun.
A big thanks to Tom Bell and Kat Violette and Greater Portland Council of Governments for producing it. It’s so good to be reminded of stories like this that hold us together.
A few quotes from the video for fun:
We got about 50 people in the Town Hall and started making plans. – Sharon McDonnell, Yarmouth
We didn’t do it for the kudos, we did it for the kiddos. – Deb Dean, Naples
I have been overwhelmed at the ways that people have rallied to support and educate and protect their communities. – Carla Hunt, Yarmouth
“Don’t speak too soon, for the wheel’s still in spin.”
The quote is from Bob Dylan. Do you know the song?
And here’s a Taoist story along the same lines.
There once was a farmer whose horse ran away. On hearing of the misfortune, the farmer’s neighbor arrived to commiserate, but all he got from the farmer was, “Who knows what’s good or bad?”
This proved to be true, for the next day the horse returned, bringing with it a drove of wild horses in its train. This time the neighbor arrived with congratulations, only to receive the same response. “Who knows what’s good or bad?”
This too was so, for the next day the farmer’s son tried to mount one of the wild horses and broke a leg.
More commiserations from the neighbor, with the same response which was again validated, for soldiers soon came around commandeering for the army, and the son was spared because of his injury.
Another way to think of this concept is: God is still speaking. More will be revealed and it is not for me to judge in the present what is best for the future.
I once saw someone accept bad news as neither good nor bad, just news. I once saw someone accept bad news as truly bad, yet remain open to things turning good; open to unimaginable twists of fate. I once saw someone receive awesomely good news, yet not get carried away with illusions of grandeur. “There are no big deals,” this person used to say.
These three people showed me that I always have a choice to accept whatever comes. I have a choice to react with moderation. I have a choice to make peace with whatever is happening now and simply be curious about whatever comes next.
To many people, new pronouns and newly-visible gender identities can be confusing, intimidating, or even alarming. I’m talking about when a person asks be referred to as they. Or someone who looks like a man asks to be referred to as she. Or a feminine-looking person wants to be called a he.
There are lots of terms and definitions out there and for me it was too much to learn it all at once. Here are some basics.
Assigned Sex – An anatomical thing, the description that a doctor assigns to a baby based on their body. Typically referred to as male, female, or intersex.
Gender – What your core spirit feels like. Whether you feel like a man or a woman or something else deep inside. Some people have two spirits, or more, and those deep inside feelings can change from day to day. Typically referred to as man/boy, woman/girl, nonbinary, or queer.
Sexual Orientation – The sex or gender you want to get cuddly with. Typically referred to as straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual.
Old Ideals Coming Out
Most Americans, especially older Americans, have a traditional mindset that if a person looks like girl she is a girl and she likes boys. Or if a person looks like a man that means he has male anatomy and that means he should want to date women.
Not true today. Or ever, actually. And as much I might long for tidy alignment among sex, gender, and attraction, it’s not okay for me to pretend or ignore that a colorful variety of genders and orientations exist today. It’s not okay for me to assume that every person, or any person, is aligned that way.
I’ve found that it works well if I easily allow for anyone I meet, however they look, to align their stuff however they want. It’s a Quaker ideal: listen and act on the light of god within you. And it’s an American ideal: we love our rights to individual freedom and self determination. We pride ourselves as a nation of self-made people!
And did you know that using the pronoun “they” to refer to an individual is not new in the English language? Shakespeare used it that way, for instance.
Four Things I’ve Learned
This is not a whole big explanation of pronouns. There’s a lot to it. I’m simply trying to pass along some basics that I’ve learned only in the last few years. And I’m open to corrections, clarifications, and other views. We’re all just trying to figure this out.
1. Make an effort
It’s hard when someone asks you to change how you think of them. For example, “I know I’ve been your female-looking co-worker for years, but I actually identify as non-binary and prefer using they/them when referring to me.” It’s also hard when someone looks feminine but asks to be thought of and referred to as masculine, or visa versa.
These things can be really hard, actually. Gender-based cues and instincts have been hard-wired into us. Having to change this “hard wiring” can feel like an imposition. Yet “because it’s hard” is not an excuse. I have to make an effort. And you know what? It’s not actually hard-wired with actual wire. Old instincts exist in your brain cells and brain cells can change.
The effort I have to make is mostly a spiritual one; to actually really see every person as a unique individual who gets to define themselves. If that’s what I’m walking around with – that spiritual attitude — I’m not likely to accidentally show disrespect.
Yet I also have to make an effort with specific people who have asked for they/them pronouns or pronouns that don’t immediately “register with me.” Most people who want specific pronouns tell us what they want. It’s my job to keep track of that and when I am about to write to or talk to such a person, or about such a person, I am actively trying to keep in mind that when a sentence calls for a pronoun, I will say the right thing. I practice in my head.
2. Catch your mistakes
When I realize I have made a mistake, I look for an immediate opportunity to fix it. I don’t pretend it didn’t happen or that no one noticed, even though there may be no reaction whatsoever. At the next break in the conversation, for instance, I might say, “I realize I called you a she just now and that’s not right. Sorry about that.”
Then move on. No need to make a thing of it. Demonstrate respect by actually NOT making a thing of it. A quick look-in-the-eye genuine apology can go a long way. And look for a chance to use the correct pronoun in the future so we can all see that you are serious about wanting to get it right.
3. Learn stuff on your own
When I first started encountering people who wanted me to call them they instead of he or she, my instinct was to ask them to explain themselves. Really, I wanted to learn from them what this was all about and why they were asking me to make such an accommodation.
Blaaak. That notion – that I wanted people to explain themselves – sends shivers now that I write it. It reminds me of “Explain yourself young lady,” or other phrases I heard as a child.
And that’s exactly what it might feel like to a person being asked to explain: demeaning. Perhaps “justify yourself,” is a good translation of how it might feel.
Curiosity is good and if you feel close enough with a they/them type person to talk about stuff like gender then ease into a conversation and be ready stop at any moment. But don’t expect someone to teach you from scratch. Learn some stuff on your own first. Use the right words. Have good questions. Show some respect. Be the ambassador who arrives in a foreign country and even though clumsy, tries to greet people in their native language.
4. Embrace the opportunity
Rather than look at someone with they/them pronouns as a burden, I can make a choice to see it as an opportunity. What an easy way to show someone instant respect! All I have to do is pay attention to what someone wants to be called and do what they ask. They will notice. Using the right pronoun is an easy way to build instant mutual rapport.
I can have a bad attitude about gender-neutral pronouns or I can embrace them like I embraced computers, cellphones, and zoom. Actually, I should embrace gender-neutral people way more than those things. Those are machines. Gender-neutral people are people!
As in may of these articles, I need to check my privilege. My sex, gender, and sexual orientation are all aligned in very traditional ways. I don’t get questioned. I don’t get asked about my pronouns very often. But I broadcast them anyway as a show of support for others, and to show you that I COULD be a they/them but happen to be a he/him; no better or worse than a they/them or a her/she, just all of us sharing our pronouns.
As a practical matter, I have a lot to gain by making an effort on pronouns and little to lose.
See right there? That’s the first step: admitting the mistake.
I walked away from a conversation last week feeling uneasy. Angry actually. It didn’t go well. My first reaction, as usual, was to blame the other person. But as I tried to explain away the discomfort in my head as the other person’s fault, it didn’t go away. It’s often like this. And if I stay with it and remember that I’m supposed to practice humility, I often come to that bittersweet conclusion: I made a mistake. It was me who messed up.
I hate that. Opening the gates of regret. Having to admit, even if only to myself, that I was at fault. Embarrassed. Wishing I could take something back. Wanting an impossible do-over. That’s the bitter part.
The sweet part is that now I have a way out. Because I admitted the mistake, there IS a path to peace. I know that if I do something about my mistake, I will be able to move forward untethered.
1. Sometimes the thing that I have to do is to simply admit my mistake out loud. If I use the wrong gender pronoun for instance, I’ve learned to immediately acknowledge the mistake and move on. Sometimes it’s making a statement to your team or your family. Sometimes it’s called a confession, or a fifth step. Just saying your mistake out loud to another human being can be hugely freeing.
2. Sometimes the thing I have to do is make an apology. With a degree of reverence or formality I say words directly to someone who was harmed by my mistake. It’s a way to let them know I noticed, and that I wish it hadn’t happened that way. A genuine apology doesn’t care if it’s accepted or not. It’s not conditional in any way. A genuine apology is never followed with a but.
3. Sometimes the thing that I have to do is to make an amend; make an offer to fix the mistake, and follow through. Sometimes it means you have to pay for something or actually take responsibility for something. Sometimes the problem that you caused can’t actually be fixed because someone’s not around or perhaps raising an old wrong with someone might do more harm than good. A solution here is to give time or money to a cause related to the mistake you made. Perhaps you can’t make peace with a person from the past but you can help other people in the future. I like the term “living amends.”
4. Sometimes I simply make a vow. A promise. A prayer to my future self: “Don’t ever make that mistake again!” But it’s more than just saying that once in a fit of frustration, it’s actually imagining future scenarios over and over again and imagining myself NOT making that mistake. I work at it. I try to train my brain to be different in the future. I actually practice different words in my head; the words I will use next time. I can’t change the past but I can try my best to turn that mistake into a lesson learned.
For me, realizing that I have made a mistake often comes with guilt and anguish. My mind races about it. What I should have done differently? What does someone think of me now? What’s really behind what happened? My neck and back muscles tighten. I think about it WAY too much.
And for me, the solution is usually to turn that nervous energy into actually doing something about it. I work hard to accept what happened and then I try to focus on what I need to do to feel okay about what I did. I turn from the past to the future. And do something.
The hard part of admitting a mistake is the voice from within that says: “Damn. It’s true. I did a bad thing. I wish I could have that moment back.” The wonderful part of admitting a mistake is that it’s the first step towards making peace with it. In fact, I can’t actually make peace with my mistakes if I’m not willing to say they exist.
I made a big mistake last week. Really. It brought me to tears. Writing this is one of the things I’m doing about it.
I think this book is about bridging divides; about understanding each other. “The Gatherings provided an opportunity to learn “from” rather than learn “about” Indigenous experiences and perspectives, a subtle but powerful distinction that disrupts the colonial legacy of objectifying Indigenous peoples.” That’s from the Afterward by Frances Hancock.
This is what we tried to do at Make Shift Coffee Houses; places where liberals and conservatives came together to learn “from” each other rather than “about” each other. And it disrupted the labels they otherwise put on each other.
Here’s from the jacket flap: In a world that requires knowledge and wisdom to address developing crises around us, The Gatherings shows how Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples can come together to create meaningful and lasting relationships.
Thirty years ago, in Wabanaki territory – a region encompassing the state of Maine and the Canadian Maritimes – a group of Indigenous and non-Indigenous individuals came together to explore some of the most pressing questions at the heart of Truth and Healing efforts in the United States and Canada. Meeting over several years in long-weekend gatherings, in a Wabanaki-led traditional Council format, assumptions were challenged, perspectives upended, and stereotypes shattered. Alliances and friendships were formed that endure to this day.
The Gatherings tells the moving story of these meetings in the words of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous participants. Reuniting to reflect on how their lives were changed by their experiences and how they continue to be impacted by them, the participants share the valuable lessons they learned.
The many voices represented in The Gatherings offer insights and strategies that can inform change at the individual, group, and systems levels. These voices affirm that authentic relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples – with their attendant anxieties, guilt, anger, embarrassments, and, with time, even laughter and mutual affection – are key to our shared futures here in North America. Now, more than ever, it is critical that we come together to reimagine.
The book is authored by Shirley N. Hager and Mawopiyane. Shirley Hager is a retired from University of Maine Cooperative Extension and is a Maine Quaker active in Tribal-State relations. Mawopiyane, in Passamaquoddy, literally means “let us sit together,” but the deeper meaning is a group of people coming together, as in a longhouse, to struggle with a sensitive or divisive issue….. Mawopiyane is a word that is recognizable in all Wabanaki languages, and it reflects the collaborative nature of our efforts [from the book].
Here are the names of the contributors: Gwen Bear, The Reverend Shirley Bowen, Alma H. Brooks/Zapawey-kwey, gkisedtanamoogk, JoAnn Hughes, Debbie Leighton, Barb Martin, Miigam’agan, T. Dana Mitchell, Wayne A. Newell, Betty Peterson, Marilyn Keyes Roper, Wesley Rothermel.
Several years ago I wrote a Good Group Tip called Love and it was published in my first book. A high school friend of my daughter’s picked up the book and thumbed through it, stopping on the Love page. “I get that this is a book about group decision making, ” he said in a 16-year kind of way. “But what’s love got to do with it?”
I’m pretty sure he had no idea about the Tina Turner song. It’s just that he reckoned himself a future businessman and couldn’t see why Love would be in a business book.
Then this comment shows up at the website. Just days ago. About Love. From my brother John Prista Freshley. A businessman.
“I have started and led a wide variety of start-ups. And, ever since Craig wrote this tip in his book, I have included it in every company (starting in 2006). And, I have tried to practice and, often, quite explicitly. “I want us to have loving, caring relationships with each other. Start-ups are hard and love is part of the glue that will hold us together.” It is always a powerful moment.
A lesson learned….
Like many of Craig’s tips, it is sometimes super hard to practice and…a few years back, one of my daughters suggested that I read “The 5 Love Languages.” There are some simplistic things in there, but I instantly realized that many of my colleagues that I thought I was treating lovingly, did not receive it that way. I was not speaking their language!
I was direct, up-front, challenging them to grow, concerned about the career prospects. Sometimes, that was received as intended. And, sometimes, it was received at pushy, arrogant, “you don’t think I am any good and need to better.” It did not feel like love at all.
So, Craig – I suggest an edit to this old and powerful tip! “Love absolutely belongs in a meeting room and an organization. And, to demonstrate that, learn how your peers and colleagues know that you are being loving towards them.”
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 …read more
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. …read more