Independence & Respect

FROM MY HEART - Barbara Gonzalez-Ventura (The Philippine Star) - June 14, 2020 - 12:00am

Since Independence Day, I have wondered exactly what the word “independence” means. I have always thought of myself as an independent woman who became a working single parent who raised her children somewhat haphazardly, but there were times when we had a lot of fun. So I looked up the word “independent” on Google. I can use Google, meaning I’m a bit of a techie, even if I don’t score well on the shopping sites. “Independent” means free from outside control; not depending on another’s authority.

When I think about it, now that I have been retired for about a thousand years, I don’t think I agree about not depending on another’s authority. I left the authority of a parent when I married, discovered the undecipherable authority of a husband, could not accept that and left it only to accept the authority of bosses. 

But there were limits to their authority as well. I remember my first job in advertising. My immediate boss was wonderful and so was our SuperBoss — let’s call the president of the company that — who was very melodramatic. I don’t know how long I had been working there, long enough for all of us to have become good friends. We were having a brainstorming meeting. Brainstorming is what you do when you’re trying to think of a new creative campaign. 

The president already had an idea. The rest of us were trying to come up with something else. I was saying something when a folder of old ads landed with a thud right in front of me. He had thrown it. “Look at that,” he said in what I called his loud Shakespearean tones. “Look at it!”

I cast a glance at the folder, thinking: He threw you at me. That is a total lack of respect. Without saying a word I picked up my notebook, ballpoint pen, handbag, walked out of the room and took a cab home. He had insulted me. I knew I was three rungs below him, but he had no right to throw anything at me.

I went home and didn’t go to work the next day. My immediate boss called me and asked me to come to work. “No,” I said. “I feel very disrespected and insulted. Nobody throws a folder at me. I’m taking time off to think about what I want to do.” “What do you mean?” my immediate boss asked. “Are you going to resign?” “Maybe,” I said.

The next day SuperBoss himself came to the house, apologized to me and convinced me to come back to work. I did. No one ever threw a folder at me again. Was that a sign of independence or was it just pride? Later on when I hit my 50s and attended seminars on the teachings of Carl Jung I realized that SuperBoss had crossed one of my boundaries. That boundary I call respect. One of the lessons I have learned in life is the value of respect — for ourselves and for others.

What does that really mean? I think it means thinking about other people’s feelings before acting. It takes a lot of training to do that because showing respect requires quick thinking. Before he threw the folder, which to him was just a dramatic gesture, he should have thought: How would I feel if someone threw a folder that landed right in front of me? I would think it was thrown at me. I would be insulted. If that’s how I would feel, then I should probably just ask the other people between us to pass the folder to her.

But that takes time to think out. The best way to show respect is to learn it as a child from the example of your parents, from their teaching, from your experiences at school with the nuns, from your experiences at work. As you grow older, depending on the observations you make and how profoundly you absorb them, showing respect becomes instinctive. It has become such a part of you.

Like my husband and me. He likes Trump. I don’t. So we don’t watch TV together. Sometimes when I hear him watching Anderson Cooper on CNN I join him for a while because I like Anderson’s views. But he doesn’t and he often changes channels quickly so I let him. I just watch Anderson in the bedroom. I respect how he likes Trump and he respects how I dislike him. We live in peace.

But all these insights on independence and respect come to me late in life. I learned it as I lived through observation and making mistakes of my own. I don’t think I ever taught it to my children in this way. I hope and pray I taught it by example though I fear I might have failed. But I write this now just to share, maybe to help.

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