This was my second of three “start of year” assemblies by the head of school. At assembly this past Wednesday, the topic was respect.
Last week, I talked about the morality of Gould. You may recall that I said the morality of Gould is that we work to make the world a better place.
And I talked about compassion and read you the Charter of Compassion. I’m going to read it again and your job is to remember the last word.
The principle of Compassion calls us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.
You’ve got the last word? Yes, respect.
There are two kinds of respect. The kind you get no matter what, let’s call that personhood respect. And the kind you get through your behavior. Let’s call that earned respect.
Personhood respect rests on respect for the body, respect for a person’s mind and heart, and respect for a person’s history and future.
Respect for the body…Your body is your space, the house of your mind and heart. It is the vessel that will take you through your life. On those ground alone it deserves respect. We’re also working with the body that we were given and it is awesome. Take good care of it: eat right, stay away from things that harm your body and brain, and exercise. No one should touch you without your permission, touch you in ways you don’t like, or harm you. No one should make fun of someone else’s body. It’s rude, it’s wrong.
Respect for your mind and heart…We all have different passions and interests, senses of purpose, theologies, senses of humor, and talents. These should be celebrated and inspire your curiosity and sense of adventure. It is in this arena you all can learn so much from each other.
Respect for your history and future…Only you really know your memories, ancestry, family, hardships, and joys. And no one knows your future, so full of possibilities. We respect each of your histories and futures because your history made you and your future will be a gift to the world. Treat each other accordingly.
Now, the second kind of respect, earned respect, is not automatic. We all want earned respect because it shows that people recognize the value of our actions. We also want it because this kind of respect creates opportunities. It’s like late lights, you have to earn it by doing your work, not by ignoring your work then needing more time.
Here are some tips for gaining earned respect:
Always, I mean always, respect people’s personhood. If you tease someone about their body, mock their passions, make racist comments about their family or ancestors, diminish their hopes, you will not be respected. Don’t have fun at the expense of other people, it’s destructive and diminishes you.
Own and fix your own mistakes. Never lie or make excuses to cover an error or shoddy work. Don’t say “I didn’t mean it.” when you did it. Don’t say “I was only joking” when you’ve clearly blown it hurt and someone else. Own it!
Be kind. Kindness, like all forms of excellence, is a habit. Make it yours.
Be honest and trustworthy…this is something you have to do all the time. Even if you get away with a lie, people can feel it happened and it is long remembered.
Finally, maintain this ratio: twenty parts solving to one part complaining. Solving takes work and makes people’s lives better, complaining is easy and brings people down. Solving earns respect, complaining earns disdain. Complaining can become a toxic habit, avoid it.
So, respect personhood, work hard and fix your own mistakes, be kind, be honest and trustworthy, and maintain the critical ratio: twenty parts solving to one part complaining.
I’ll finish with a little poem to each of you.
She says what is true and does what she says,
can be trusted with great things and small.
He’ll bind up your wound and sing you a song,
that makes you feel twenty feet tall.
They’ve both got your back and your feet to the fire,
champions of all that is true.
And what a surprise when you come to find,
that each of them has become you.