Respect is like air: if you take it away, it's all people can think about.
~Kerry Patterson - Author, Crucial Conversations

Respect is like air, I've heard it said. When it's plentiful, there's no issue. We take it as given. But when it's missing, you can't think about anything else.

I was swimming at the Portsmouth Indoor Pool early one morning. My lane partner was taking up more of the lane than I thought necessary, more than his share. I was grouchy, shrinking and trying not to be run over as he swam by in the other direction.

In addition, his pace was slow. He should be in a different lane!, I grumbled to myself. My attitude darkened -- unusual in this blue and flowing place. I swim because it centers me. I glide along, my body and mind free and weightless. But sometimes someone gets in my lane who, for various reasons, is a challenge to swim with. Like this guy.

Thank You Very Much
Not sure why, but for some reason my story, "Thank You Very Much" from Unlikely Teachers, came to mind. "Thank You Very Much" tells of the Aikido custom of bowing and saying "thank you very much" to each partner you practiced with during class. This can be as many as four or five different people, some of whom you may not actually have enjoyed working with all that much.

Nonetheless, you bow and say "thank you" and try to mean it. As the story goes on to say, I learn quite a bit by observing this custom. I learn to look for something to be grateful for with each new partner, and I gradually extend this learning off the mat and into the rest of my life. If you've been a participant in my workshops or read Unlikely Teachers, you'll recognize the recurring theme: "Where's the gift?"

Finding the Hidden Gift
Swimming up and back with my challenging lane partner, I asked myself what gifts might be lurking.

And I found I had the opportunity to:
• Slow down and appreciate this ki moment.
• Stay centered, present and patient.
• Stand up and assert myself. I could ask him to swim in a more "leisure" lane. Or I could choose a new lane.

I imagined myself at the end of my swim bowing and saying, "Thank you very much," as I might in the dojo. What difference might this make in my attitude and my swim. I tried it. As I passed him, I thought "Thank you very much," and envisioned a bow in his direction.

At first I was faking it and it felt funny. I chuckled to myself. But on the next pass I was more congruent. I could feel respect growing in me. He had not changed one bit, but I had. It was a good feeling. Thank you very much. That was the gift. Peace.

Respect Is Like Air
What would it take to offer respect at all times, with all people? But some people don't deserve respect, you say? People must earn respect.
I have to challenge you on this. Do you have to like someone to respect them? Can you offer respect without it being "earned"? Who benefits when you do? What does it say about you when you offer respect, whether or not the recipient deserves it.

I know how it feels to receive that "thank you very much" as well as to offer it. It's as good to give as to receive. But I think it's the offering that feels best.

I suggest that we offer respect because of who we are. And that is a gift in itself. What do you think?

Author's Bio: 

Judy Ringer is the author of Unlikely Teachers: Finding the Hidden Gifts in Daily Conflict. She provides conflict and communication training throughout North America with unique workshops based on mind/body principles from the martial art aikido, in which she holds a second degree black belt. Employing best practice communication models, Judy brings to life key concepts such as self-management under pressure and appreciation of other viewpoints. Her programs are interactive, experiential and energetic.

She has written articles on the relevance and application of the aikido metaphor for Aikido Today Magazine and The Systems Thinker and is the author of the award-winning e-newsletter, Ki Moments.