Someone on Facebook recently asked what it means to be respectful. I immediately thought of the greatest compliment I ever received.

It was on a hot summer evening over 20 years ago when I was waitressing. A group of around ten men came into the restaurant after attending a farm equipment show all afternoon in the hot sun. I brought them ice water which they quickly drank. As I came back several times to fill their glasses while they waited for their food, it didn’t take me long to recognize that one was mildly mentally handicapped.

As I was refilling his glass, he said to me, “You do a good job at that.”

“At what, John?” one of the other men asked.

Without hesitation, John replied, “At treating people like people.”

I could have wept. How often had this man not been treated like a person? As someone different from the others? As one not worthy of the common courtesies extended to those who are “normal”?

I hadn’t treated him any differently than the others, and that meant the world to him, because he felt respected as a human being.

John may not have been as intelligent as some, but he was wiser than most.

The Many Forms of Respect

Respect for others comes in so many forms. Acknowledging another’s presence. Smiling in welcome when they approach you. Inviting them into a conversation with a smile, a comment, or a question. Showing interest in what they have to say, even if it’s something you’re not interested in. After all, they value you enough to share their thoughts with you — a gift from their heart to you. How you receive that gift says far more about you than it does about them.

My Role Models in Showing What it Means to Be Respectful

I am grateful to both my parents for modeling respect to all people.

Several years ago, a pastor’s wife told me a story about my mother.

Before she was married, my mother taught in a little rural school in Pennsylvania. Most of the students were white except for one black girl — who grew up to become the pastor’s wife who told me this story.

During the school year when Mother was her teacher, some of the other students were unkind to her because of her skin color. One day when she was absent, my mother took the opportunity to talk to the other students about showing respect to others and not treating people unkindly because they may be different in some way than they are.

From that point on, her students treated their classmate with love and respect. The girl noticed the difference and sometime later found out what her teacher had done. It was a kindness she never forgot.

Also in the years before he was married, my father spent several years in Nepal helping to build a hospital. (My niece and I tell all about these experiences in our book, Eight Little Words.)

One of my father’s responsibilities was paying the Nepali workers who were helping them with the building project. The caste system in Nepal considers some people as “untouchables.” As was the custom, the untouchables would cup their hands to receive their pay. The higher caste Nepalis would typically toss money into their hands so they wouldn’t risk touching them.

But not my father. He would place the money right into their cupped hands, making sure to touch his hand against theirs. Many of them would look up at him with big smiles. Their personhood had been recognized and acknowledged, and they felt that respect.

When Not to be Efficient

Some time ago I read an excellent article on efficiency. However, how to be efficient isn’t what stuck with me. It was the very last paragraph that I haven’t forgotten:

Know that efficiency doesn’t (and shouldn’t) work for everything or every situation. Don’t be efficient with: spending time with loved ones, laughing until your stomach hurts, cuddling with pets or walking in the woods. Things like that don’t need time-limits, end games or any goals. The more you lose yourself in these, the better they are.

Paul Jarvis

Relating to others in an unhurried manner not only benefits us, it’s another way to show others respect. Among other things, it communicates that we value them and the time we get to spend with them. After all, tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.

Your Respectful Friend

Perhaps you have been on the receiving end of a friend or family member who rushes the time they are with you.

Don’t let their actions affect your sense of worth as a person. No matter how others treat you, always remember that you are a child of the King who died so He wouldn’t have to be without you for all eternity! We can gently ignore disrespect from others knowing it is not reflective in any way of our true value.

While He (Jesus) was here on earth He told His disciples, “I do not call you servants anymore, because a servant doesn’t know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have heard from my Father.” (John 15:15 CSB).

Abraham isn’t the only one who had God for his friend. We do, too!