Updated: May 21, 2020
Let’s talk about trust and respect. I’ve been thinking about those words a lot lately.
I love words. I enjoy the look of them, thinking about the meaning of them. In graphic design, I often examine the shape of them, how different colors, fonts, sizes, layouts and how to make you feel something through text. I gently massage a word to evoke a specific feeling from you.
In the inner work I’ve been doing, I’ve realized that defining a wish, thought, feeling, hope, or frustration is the key to getting the results you want. In relationships, communication is often an issue because the meaning of the words being said has not been defined. You mean it one way, I mean it another. Your life experience with what a word means to you is different than everyone else’s.
Which brings me to our current situation. Yes, we have been stuck in our homes with the same group of people for a long time, and yes, getting through that has required both trust and respect. I trust that you have been careful and mindful when you went to the grocery store. I trust that you stayed 6 feet away when you dropped that off to your friend. I trust that you understand that your family’s well-being is in your hands. I respect that we are both having a hard time in different ways. I respect that you are doing your best too. In that meaning of the word...my meaning is that I witness your feelings, your discomfort, your stress, and give you the benefit of the doubt that you are trying and putting effort in while under duress that affects you differently. So, in this case I guess I’m rolling with two definitions at the same time. The noun, with passive appreciation due to knowledge from our shared history, and the verb, where I put action behind that appreciation. I admire and feel deep admiration for you so I take that into consideration when I interpret your behavior.
(Noun) the state of being responsible for someone or something.
(verb) allow someone to have, use, or look after (someone or something of importance or value) with confidence.
(verb) commit (someone or something) to the safekeeping of
(noun) a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.
(verb) have due regard for the feelings, wishes, rights, or traditions of.
We are also in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. Respect for strangers, acquaintances, business relationships, etc. has taken on a whole new level of importance in a life or death kind of way. At first, when the crisis hit, I felt a shift, people became more considerate, more polite, more respectful.
(adjective) feeling or showing deference and respect.
We were taking action. Showing each other that we understand they are also going through this and that it isn’t easy for them either. When we came to a stop sign, smiles, waving each other to take the first turn. At the grocery store...no you first, no you. Walking...smiles at strangers, waving to the elderly woman in the window, respectfully greeting someone in appreciation as they stepped out into the road to give you space. A total shift from the angry world that I felt before, a world where each person was wrapped in their own bubble of anger and frustration and sometimes, if you bumped up against their invisible bubble, that anger spewed all over you, especially if you were the “kind of person” that societal permission allowed them to burn you with their fiery breath without fear of repercussion. As a woman, I felt some of that every day.
I have traveled on many trips to Canada for vacations. Last year I got to experience the South, in Nashville, for the first time. Although these places indeed have their own struggles, I did feel a certain kind of respect that thrilled me to my core. A “polite” way of treating a stranger. Perhaps they just had a little less societal permission to spew. Yes, I am a white woman and I know that I speak to my experience alone, however, I came home and told everyone of the wonderful feeling of not worrying that in the middle of my lovely day, I would suddenly become the object of someone’s viscous energy, their inner turmoil sending my own day on a crooked trajectory with no warning. When this pandemic first rocked our world, I felt my own community raise the bar of respect. I felt strangers having due regard for the feelings of others. I felt a common understanding...I don’t know what you are going through due to this crisis and you don’t know what I am going through, but we can only assume that it is hard for both of us. People wear masks to the grocery store. They discuss, in heated arguments on social media forums, the degree of respect needed. Is it necessary to wear masks if you are outside and over 6 feet from another? Is it ok to go out in public at all? What level of risk is acceptable? Does your behavior show respect to the health care workers that carry the weight of this virus? How long are you in a grocery store? Did you get in and out with minimal contact to show the workers there your respect for risking their health to supply you with food? When you swapped books, did you wipe them down and try to minimally contaminate them to show respect for the recipient?
I have been functioning under the public guidelines that my research, and reading, agree with. After reading about the viral load required to make someone, with an average immune system, ill, and the dissipation of the viral load with distance and air flow, I completely support that if you are outdoors, 6 feet or more away, you are safe at a level I am comfortable with, without masks. If you are with someone who is immune compromised, or indoors, you must both wear masks for the highest level of protection, and if indoors, limit the amount of time as much as possible.
Now, as many parts of the country, the world, my own state, begin opening, and guidelines have been outlined, I have seen several examples of how respect will play an even larger part in our communities and how sticky our understanding of respect can be. I have had my eyes opened by several situations. A social visit, a work situation, landscapers next door, a story from a friend, an event in the neighborhood. In some circumstances, another person felt, due to their intimate relationship with the person, or due to a perceived position of power, they did not have to wear their mask properly, while others around them, did wear their masks. In another, the other person, due to their own doubt of these guidelines and from their own research and life experience, disagreed with the guidelines, and felt that due to their closer relationship with the other person, and because of that mutual respect, they could be honest in their own truths, and behave according to those truths and not wear their mask properly. In another circumstance, a person felt so much discomfort that they did not want to wear their mask. Pulled down to expose their nose, or hanging down under their chin, the mask was present to show that they did understand that others felt there was a risk, but because the other person was not a stranger, they could defer to their own feelings and their own comfort level, as masks are admittedly hot and uncomfortable.
In public, people have begun yelling at strangers, when a person passes by, outdoors, over 6 feet away, but does not wear a mask. When they feel that the other, although following state guidelines, is not being safe enough for their own level of comfort. When I am out walking, and another person blazes ahead on their own path, forcing me to leap away from them at the last moment, I feel the stress and reality of entering the public world again. In the situation with the landscapers, one week, with an overabundance of caution, they wore their masks, though hot and uncomfortable, even though no one else was outside and they were beyond even the 6 feet requirement from each other. The next week, they arrived with no masks at all, working at the property line, less than 6 feet from my children, who were outside playing, forcing me to call them inside to adhere to the guidelines. The company has yet to return my phone call. When a child that we didn’t know was in our neighborhood, making a social distance visit to a neighbor, I saw how stressful it was for my child when a younger child, they didn’t know, who understandably didn’t know better or understand the issue, came too close. It brought my 5 year old to tears trying to manage the situation. Considering how to handle the situation myself, respectfully, without being rude, was extremely stressful.
(verb) avoid harming or interfering with.
I have begun to consider what going back to school would potentially look like. How can you expect children to follow rules perfectly? That isn’t the nature of children. They are supposed to learn through trial and error. What if that inadvertent error...the error of behaving developmentally appropriately, brought illness to their family? Is that an acceptable guilt to befall a five year old? As an adult, I consider all of these circumstances with my own level of stress and confusion...what can that possibly feel like to a child? What about other businesses? If my hairdresser opens her business, should she have to take her customer’s temperatures before she sees them? Should she trust a casual relationship with a person to mean that they are being honest about their potential exposure? Should she tell a paying customer to leave if they start to cough? Should she believe them if they say it’s allergies? Do they trust themselves that it is? Can she take the risk of upsetting customers if she requires them to wear masks, even if they don’t agree or are too uncomfortable? Are they in the position of power, as the paying customer, to define their own rules? Should she risk her family’s health for income that puts food on the table?
This is the crux of why I am writing this piece. Is respect about someone understanding another’s feelings and therefore feeling uncomfortable and at risk because you respect their comfort and truth? Or is it respecting another’s right to potential safety enough to endure your own discomfort and sense of ridiculous overabundance of caution? Is it going beyond your own understanding and state guidelines, to make a stranger comfortable because they have a higher stress about risk than the general consensus? When this crisis began, I heard a medical expert, on a major network news show, tell people that they should socialize carefully, only with those that they trust. I was so angry. Yelling at the tv. A virus does not function through “trust.” If you get sick, it is not because the person who gave it to you is not “trustworthy.” What if they caught it at the grocery store? What if they caught it through another’s carelessness, not by fault of their own? If you care for someone, enough to trust them, I would think that they would be the last person you want to see and possibly infect. Now, I wonder, do we trust each other enough to interpret the meaning of respect? Respect from strangers and casual business associates, classmates, neighbors...is all that keeps us safe? What if the more intimate your relationship, the more risk involved? What if mutual respect is interpreted differently? Once an event has already occurred, it is too late to address it. Do we need to come up with contracts for what we will require of others before business is done? Do we trust the government enough to trust their guidelines are actually safe? That their assessment of viral numbers and safety to open and which businesses should open is correct?
(verb) believe in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of.
Opening businesses will require both trust and respect. We need to find a way to agree on what those words mean. We will need to agree to our mutual understanding of these terms before we do business. If a breach occurs, do we walk off the job, risking not being paid or loss of future business? What is the language we use to respectfully request that someone follow the guidelines, even when we are the only one watching, and they hold the societal cards for permission? When they are the boss, or physically stronger, or in some position of perceived power? When the only ramifications of them abusing that power is that you, or through you, a family member, becomes ill and dies, without anything linking that person to the part they played in it all? When it comes to trusting the government, the guidelines they create, and the decisions they make, even I am at a loss as to what level of trust I am comfortable with. Many times, I do feel a lack of respect from that institution that makes it very difficult for me to trust it.
(verb) have confidence; hope
(verb) have faith or confidence.
I come to the most important meaning, going forward. I trust that we can all do the right thing. That we can find a better way going forward. That we can dig deep, to find the ultimate meanings of these words, meanings that benefit the greater good. Meanings that are bigger than our own understanding, comfort, anger, and frustration. Viewing our actions as teamwork, because we are all on the same team. I am using trust as a verb, as in I believe this will occur and having faith that it is possible. Our future financial and physical health are riding on our mutual understanding of these words.
(verb) agree to recognize and abide by (a legal requirement).
(noun) law an arrangement whereby a person (a trustee) holds property as its nominal owner for the good of one or more beneficiaries.
I hope my words can be a binding agreement, for the good of all the beneficiaries. I agree to respect you by understanding, knowing, and following the state and federal guidelines, because that is the only reasonable solution at this time, regardless of my political ideology, the situation, the power dynamic, the relationship, or who’s watching. I trust that you will as well. Please, respect my trust, respect that we are all trusting each other, and I will do the same.