Respect defines you as a person: Lessons from my tour of duty in Bahrain

OPINION |

Smack in the middle of summer, the temperatures in Bahrain can hit as high as 50 degrees Celsius and the humidity can make the place unbearable. As you step out of the air-conditioned airport, the heat feels like a hot wet blanket being wrapped around you. I used to supervise a bank in Bahrain, and it was my job to go there.

Mohamed, the driver -- an old and tiny man -- used to pick me up regularly without fail every time I landed. One day, I called him to tell him that my flight would come in late. At 4pm, I came out and Mohamed was nowhere to be seen and he didn’t answer his phone. I took a taxi and went straight to the bank.

One hour later, Mohamed shows up in the bank looking very flustered and rushed in to apologise. “I am sorry, I went home, had lunch and fell asleep.” It wasn’t a big deal to me. This happens to the best of us. Hassan, the young general manager of the bank, started shouting abusively at the driver and even threatened to fire him.

At first, I kept silent, then I asked Hassan to calm down. The minute the driver left, I turned to Hassan and demanded that he should call the driver and apologise to him. “How dare you shout at a man who is old enough to be your father? It is an accident of luck that he is the driver, and you are the manager. That man is the head of his family, he has children and grandchildren who look up to him. He is probably a pillar of his family and extended community, and you treat him like rubbish just because he is a driver?” Hassan was an arrogant young man with a sense of entitlement and his office gave him an exaggerated sense of importance. The idea of apologising to a driver was completely unimaginable. I ended our meeting.

The next morning Hassan apologised to me for disrespecting the driver. “My friend, you owe Mohamed the apology, not me.” To his credit, he had indeed called Mohamed and apologised to him. Later, he told me that he had never looked at Mohamed as anything other than a driver. He had not imagined that Mohamed was also a man who was respected in his own world, and that there were many people who looked up to him. For the first time, he looked at his driver as a man. Unfortunately, too many of us are guilty of the same sin. We see people as positions, not as people who deserve respect and recognition beyond their low positions. Perhaps you too are guilty of this?

Respect is a precious commodity with interesting results. The more you give, the more you get. It is almost impossible for a person that you show respect to, to turn around and disrespect you. Every time that you disrespect another person, you also bring yourself down. The best comeback to an abusive person is to reciprocate with respect. To quote Michelle Obama “when they go down, we go up”.

It is easy to respect your seniors or even your peers, but it is how you show respect to those below you that defines you as person. Keep that in mind. Show respect and you will get much more in return.

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