I was asked by a friend to “pinch-hit” for his weekly motivational email, so I dug through my old files and found one of the “e-farming” emails I had sent out to my database back in, get this, Sept. 1999. It’s a “Chicken Soup for the Soul” type of story but thought I’d post it here because it is just as applicable now as it was 10 years ago - I hope you enjoy!
Because of Who You Are
by Ray Whiting
When I was growing up “common courtesy” was … well, it was common. Young boys and girls were taught manners, how to eat properly, how to address their elders, how to conduct themselves in public, “Yes, please,” “No, thank you,” and all the rest. Then came the Feminist Movement. Then came Generation-X, then Y. Nobody knows what’s coming next, but somehow common courtesy went out with the trash, apparently.
Story has it that a young man reach around a women to open and hold the door for her. She huffed on through and said, “You don’t have to hold the door because I’m a lady.”
The boy looked up and said, “No, ma’am… I did it because I’m a gentleman.”
In this day and age it seems more common that we make a value judgment of a person before us, and, depending on our assessment, we extend or withhold certain courtesies.
How sad. Such behavior says, “I think you are worthy of my attention” and to another, “I’m going to ignore you.”
I’m sure we can all make distinctions in how we behave toward the CEO of the bank, versus the street person sitting against the wall outside the bank.
I recently read about a minister who preached a series of sermons on how people might conduct themselves toward others, regardless of their apparent station in life or outward appearance. It seemed to be well received. As the series was ending, one cold Sunday morning the people gathered for church, stepping over and around a wino sleeping on the sidewalk near the church. His rumbled cloth hat was pulled down over his face, his trousers were torn, shoes without laces covered feet without socks, and an empty liquor bottle was barely covered in a paper sack on the sleeping man’s lap. A threadbare and dirty coat wasn’t buttoned, showing a bare-chested man, clearly at rock bottom in his life.
Some of the people clucked their tongues at the obvious drunk, others hugged their children closer as they gathered into the warmth of the church. No one tried to wake the drunk, invite him indoors, or even offer an extra coat. After all, the organist had begun her work on the keyboard, and church was about to start. The people sat in their pews, the organ played on. A ten minute wait turned into fifteen and then twenty minutes. When all the people were seated and growing very impatient, they heard the sanctuary doors pull open once more. All heads turned to watch the drunk man stagger toward the front of the church, his head bobbing under the ragged hat still pulled down over his face.
People pulled their coats around them as if he might bump them in their pews. No one said a word as he made his way to the platform. A gasp was heard as he stepped up into the pulpit… raised his head … removed the hat … and revealed that it was the minister himself. The final sermon of that series was delivered without ever saying a word. The minister simply stood in the pulpit, looking at his parishioners one by one, then signaled they should stand for the closing prayers.
When we treat people according to what we think of them, it’s because we feel powerful enough to judge others, but that behavior speaks more about us than it does about them. Our worth as a person isn’t threatened by the status of another, but we often treat people as if it were. But when we treat each person as worthy, it is because of who WE are, not who we think they are.
The only person I can ever know for sure is ME. The rest is just conjecture and opinion based on outward impressions. I try to treat people based on who I am — having an honest measure of self-esteem; I can extend to others the same courtesies I believe I deserve myself. The better I know myself, and the higher I value myself, the better I will treat others because of who I am, regardless who they may seem to be.
And, it’s funny. Human nature being what it is, when we give people the courtesy of treating them with dignity, even if they seem to be base and low in demeanor, they will rise to the occasion. For all we know, WE might be the only one able to see them as worthy human beings, the only ones giving them room to grow in their own self-esteem. Treating people because of who we are is a far greater gift than allowing first impressions to control our behaviors toward others.