The Secret to Gaining Respect

The quickest way to earn respect is to give it.

by Sean Grover

Dr. Wilcox, the head of psychiatry in a leading Manhattan mental health clinic, had a history of erupting in arrogant rages.  Like all the interns, I learned to steer clear of him. When he appeared, we vaporized like ninjas into thin air. We escaped through emergency exits; hid in storage closets; or ducked behind large file cabinets in the record room.

There was one place however we couldn’t dodge Wilcox: the weekly staff meeting.

Wilcox made it his duty to scrutinize the interns and never miss the chance to offer disapproving assessments of our work. On one particular day, however, he stormed into the staff room with an extremely vengeful look in his eyes.

“Attention, please.” He shut the door and cleared his throat. “I’ll get right to the point. Yesterday, I purchased a half a pound of honey-glazed turkey and left it in the staff refrigerator. And today it is gone.”

Wilcox paced the room examining the suspects, as if we might be hiding it in our pockets and he’d be able to sniff it on us.

“I would like to think that none of you stole it.  But frankly, I’m not sure.”

Next came the ultimatum.

“If my half a pound of honey-glazed turkey doesn’t reappear in the refrigerator within twenty-four hours, there will big problems around here. I won’t rest until the thief is exposed.”

The next day came and went; the bird was still AWOL.

As the mystery of the missing poultry dragged on, interrogations and accusations were non-stop. Rumors spread like flames. Wilcox was searching our desks for clues after hours….Wilcox had installed a hidden camera in the staff room ….Wilcox was bugging our phone lines…

After several days, there was a break in the case.  Wilcox caught two office cleaners eating homemade turkey sandwiches between shifts. Convinced that they were the scoundrels guilty of the heist, he succeeded in getting them transferred to another clinic. He felt victorious.

Weeks later, the infamous half a pound of honey-glazed turkey was discovered tucked into the far back of his lower desk drawer; the very place Wilcox had hidden it himself.

I can only guess that Dr. Wilcox was trying to gain respect by instilling fear in his subordinates. He had it all wrong!  Respect does not come from making others think you are better than them; it comes from treating others as your equal and with the kindness and compassion you would like bestowed upon yourself.


When I decided to pursue a career in mental health and begin my training as a psychotherapist, I thought everyone in the field of mental health would be…well, mentally healthy.  After all, weren’t we all dedicating our lives to helping others achieve and maintain mental health?  Weren’t we choosing to lead a life of service?

Ultimately, I found many mental health clinics were plagued with clashing egos, power struggles and festering resentments.  PhD’s, MD’s, and LCSW’s…everyone had fancy initials dangling off the end of their names. But what is the value of an education if one’s own behavior lacks basic respect for others?

While working with high school students, I came to know an amazingly dedicated youth leader the teens called “Chucky G.”  Chuck had no fancy initials at the end of his name, no education in psychotherapy, no PhD in psychiatry…yet he was one of the most gifted counselors I knew.

One evening, I received a phone call from Chuck.  He was distraught about a teenager. No matter what Chuck did, he just couldn’t seem to reach the youth.

“The kid is so sad. I don’t know what to do with him,” Chuck lamented.

Though this troubled him greatly, Chuck didn’t give up on the young man.  Slowly, over time, the boy began to show signs of life.  He began to speak up more, come to the program early; he even smiled occasionally. Around that time, I received a phone call from the young man’s father.

“Do you know who this Chucky G. is?” he demanded.

I thought, uh-oh, sounds like trouble.  What could have happened?  He continued in a booming voice.  “My son won’t stop talking about him.  Chuck said this, Chuck said that.  I think he wants to be Chucky G.!”

He paused and his voice softened. “When you see him, thank him for me.  Thank him for all he’s doing for my boy.”

In the end, our credentials don’t define whether we are worthy of respect.  Nor does our education, social standing or age make us of greater consequence than someone else. It’s our behavior with others that matters most. The simple everyday gestures of expressing gratitude and appreciation, and reaching out to help others is where genuine respect lives and breathes.

Today, I have a license in psychotherapy. But if I my behavior with others is lacking, my degree is meaningless; it was money and time wasted.

There is a Buddhist saying: “When you light a lamp for another, your way is also brightened.”  In other words, respecting others is the express lane to earning respect. It’s also the essential key to enriching the quality of all your relationships no matter whom you’re relating to – your spouse, partner, children or co-workers. The swiftest and most genuine way to earn respect is to give it.