For all noteworthy intents and purposes, I’m comfortable stating that my folks raised me right. I believe in principles of basic human decency and equality. I hold the door for people at the store. I try to display common courtesy and mind my manners. I am reverential of my elders. I give a buck to a brother in need. I practice chivalry in 2017, while still valuing feminist ideals. And I do my best to be kind and considerate of all of those working in the service industry.
Mind you, there is nothing all that noteworthy or remarkable about any of this, but I do make a point of trying to be a good dude and doing the right thing. Even when inconvenient or no public audience is watching, as I see that “exemplary status of noble action” as being a key to changing the world. It all comes back to a single, simple word. Respect.
All that said, I always saw respect as a two-way street. And just as it was my job to earn it from the authority figures in my life—teachers, coaches, civil servants, supervisors and the like, it was their duty to carry themselves in a certain distinguished manner fitting their place in society. I tend to give everyone the benefit of the doubt initially, and do my best to find the good in people. But I don’t hand out free passes.
Sure, that attitude bit me in the ass here and there as a kid, with coaches most notably. But my lack of liberally-distributed deference, to me has always been an asset. Other than the precious ladies in my life, I put no one on a pedestal just for existing. If I hold you in special esteem, it is because you have earned my respect. Not just due to your prowess—the fact that you can run fast, jump high, look good in a tank top or can play Chopin on the piano. But more importantly, I value what kind of person you are. How do you treat people? Especially those who can’t benefit you in terms of money or status.
What I always come back to, when understanding people in all their inherent grandeur and horror, is remembering our common humanity. We are all human beings. And no matter how noble or gifted, we all have flaws. None among us are perfect. So I try to not judge too harshly when people disappoint us in their words and actions. It comes with the territory as an imperfect person just trying to get by in a beautiful but damaged world. When the rock star checks in to rehab or the ballplayer cheats on his lady with a chick on the ‘Gram or the politician takes a bribe, I hesitate to too quickly drop the hammer on them. Because after all, they are just dudes. No different than you and I… But often even less equipped to navigate the treacherous waters of life.
The flipside of that, is that just because someone might be a priest or rabbi, sheriff or Sherpa, tutor or trainer, boss or bureaucrat, doesn’t make them a god. I don’t immediately defer and assume that they know better or have greater abilities. Yes, they are human beings worthy of basic dignity. But my true respect as a man is a higher bar to clear. Even the most exalted among us, are still just dudes with issues. And their authority over me is only what I choose to grant them.