Commonplace News Joshua Reyes

POTD: Life 101

Day 8. Today’s poem of the day is Life ci.

A face devoid of love or grace,
A hateful, hard, successful face,
A face with which a stone
Would feel as thoroughly at ease
As were they old acquaintances,—
First time together thrown.1

Since I’ve been thinking a lot lately about parenting and management and dealing with people generally, this poem speaks to me about the kind of people who are in charge of others.

It’s unfortunate, because I think the person with such a “hateful, hard, successful face” probably thinks that being respected is the same as being obeyed. If you are the person in the poem and I get this wrong, please excuse me. I don’t think we’ve ever met. But I have met other people who fit the description in this poem. They say things like, “Respect my authority.” What does that even mean?

When I was in a funny little program at UMass Boston for Critical and Creative Thinking, I wondered what respect actually was. Here’s what I came up with:

Respect is the willingness to learn from another; e.g., yourself, other people, or a situation. To respect something is to want to learn from it.

Basically respect assumes something else has value. If you don’t think another person has anything to teach you, then you can’t possibly be respecting them. I guess that’s what these hard, successful faces want—to feel like there’s something in them worthy enough for you to want to incorporate what they know into your own life.

Maybe they’re worried they can’t stand on their own, though. That’s why they need the force of authority to sell themselves.

Respect is most easily trod on a two-way street. Authority is necessarily one-sided, however. It’s easier to sell something when you’re also interested in buying, too. Be forewarned: being respectful is humbling. It admits that you don’t have all the answers and that others know things that you don’t. This aspect of respect can be uncomfortable, even scary.

But in the long run, respect is kind of selfish like a sponge. You get to absorb all the hard-fought lessons other people suffered to learn. And because I’m lazy, I love that.

So, if you’re in charge of another person—and even if you’re not2—, stop and listen to them. See what you can learn.

Respect.

  1. Emily Dickinson. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. Little, Brown, and Company. (1929) 

  2. For a while I used have a collection of mottos. One of them asked, “Who can you control?” The answer is “Just me, but only sometimes, and not well.”