Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Simple Respect

Respect is an interesting thing, especially in a society where so many people expect it without earning it.

When you think of respect, what comes to mind? On a societal level, things like money, power, accomplishments, certain jobs/professions and even the kinds of shoes someone wears can determine how much respect they receive.

In particular, I think one of the biggest areas that we give and expect respect for the wrong reasons is the job market. We give respect to people for certain jobs that they do instead of for the kind of people they are and we disrespect people for jobs they work that might not be up to societal standards.

One of the best examples that I can think of right now is my current work situation. Right now, I work at a grocery store stocking shelves and doing other tasks as needed. I don't make a lot of money and I'm not doing any advanced work.

There are people who would look at me as I stock the yogurt section and see my wedding ring and think "this guy must be lazy or something to think he can support a family at a grocery store." I know there are people that think this because I've spoken to people who think this way, and to be completely honest, I find it appalling.

I guarantee you, if you were to take me and put me in a $500 suit, they would look at me - without even talking to me - and think how successful I must be. By ignoring me and looking directly at my situation, they are obviously assigning their respect level to what I do/how I look instead of who I am/what I have to say. And so goes the perpetuation of our value system in this country.

As far as working at a store goes, I have no problem with this in the least and don't see why working at a store should be disrespected compared to higher income jobs.

Just because we work in a grocery store doesn't mean we don't have responsibilities or work hard or have to master certain skill sets. Nor does it mean that we have no other talents that we couldn't apply to other professions.

If you were to line me up with several of the other stockers that I work with and go down the line, the amount of talent you would find would be outrageous. But you would have to engage and find out instead of jumping to the easier, safer conclusion that stocking shelves is the only thing we're capable of.

One might look at one of my coworkers and see a stocker where I see a student looking to get a business degree or a student preparing to complete his college career with a degree in sports management. Some people might come into the back of our store and see us loading carts and see just another kid where I see an accomplished guitar player.

Someone might even see me and see someone not worthy of their time instead of an award-winning journalist with a great deal of experience on a professional level.

One of my professors once told me that "you are not your job and your job is not you," meaning that more often than not, a job is simply a means to an end or a career is a profession that you are good at but do not use as a means of conveyance about the kind of person you are.

However, most of us have trouble understanding this, which leads to misconceptions about the people who do the jobs that most of us would find below us. Instead of seeing a person, they see someone below them and act as such towards that person if they feel the need.

In the first month that I have been working for the grocery store, I've experienced customers who have talked to me in a condescending manner simply because they didn't believe I was on their level. I've greeted people who have first looked at me and then given only a forced smile and walked away. I don't get mad at them for this, though. I feel bad for them that they would be so narrow-minded and shallow.

The truth of the matter is, we should be respecting the people we interact with while they are working until they give us a reason not to. If you want the best experience you can get from whatever business you're utilizing, you need to respect what the people who run the business are doing - from the managers to the guy who cleans the floor so you don't have to walk through aisles that are covered with dirt and grime.

I can say with confidence that I respect the individuals who keep up a store just as much as I respect the CEO who runs a company, just as much as I respect the man who works for minimum wage doing what he must to make a living.

Our society is full of individuals who work hard for their money and do so with simple goals and not-so-simple dreams in mind for themselves and their families. As people, we are all the same to this degree. However, if we ignore that truth of our own humanity and place ourselves above anything but what we consider "appropriate work," we are not only skewing how we perceive respect, we are destroying any reason for others to respect us.

The next time you're out shopping or at a restaurant or even getting an oil change, take a second to thank the person who is taking the time to make your experience better. Believe it or not, we DO care that you have come to our establishments and if you show us respect, we will show you respect.

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