Ironwood Maine Web Update

I firmly believe that respect is a lot more important, and a lot greater, than popularity.

Julius Irving

           During the winter and spring at Ironwood, I lead Character Development groups with residents. The idea is that I present a word; we define it, and then discuss what the word looks like in practice. The first word we have focused on is “Respect.”

           The discussion began with me asking all three groups (one at the Farmhouse and two at Frye) “If you were to give a basic definition of ‘respect’ what would it be?” Common words that were shared were kindness, admiration, and caring. There was also an emphasis on the need for respect to be mutual.

            In the Farmhouse group, the discussion led into why unnecessary drama is sometimes created in peer groups that often lead to individuals losing respect for one another? This steered us into an activity of how we react to labels. The exercises, simply, had three students placing Scotch-taped cards to their foreheads and were given positive attention based how high their card was. The purpose was to see the absurdity of treating others different based on a trivial aspect of someone. Students were able to relate this to real life situations and recognize how drama is often created as negative form of self-validation (meaning’ “If I point out faults of others, I do not have to work on my own personal struggles.”) As the discussion came to a close, I heard one person say, “Respect needs to be earned.” I was left with this statement lingering in my head as the students moved on to their next activity of the day.

            A few days later, I led a similar discussion with one of the Frye groups. After individuals provided definitions of the word, I asked “Does respect need to be earned?” I was impressed with the insightful answers I heard. We achieved a group consensus that there is a general respect we give to others when we are out in public. Examples of this are holding doors for others, parking in designated spaces, waiting in line, and basic manners (saying please and thank you). A higher level of respect is formed from the relationships we build with family and friends. In effect, we agreed respect doesn’t have to be earned. Respect comes in layers and deepens as our bonds with one another grow. 

            As I continued the discussion with the second Frye group, another question formed, “Does one have to have self-respect in order to respect others?” This was the first time in any of the groups that someone brought up the concept of self-respect. One could argue this is the important form of respect. While agreeing that self-respect is crucial for our own wellbeing, there was consensus that showing respect for others is possible even during times where we may not be feeling great about ourselves. 

             Each group ended with a video involving the topic. The video was of two people of opposing social and political views. One reached out to another to meet for coffee. Since then, both have made it a point to meet for coffee every few weeks and they are now close friends. Neither has changed their views on the beliefs they hold dear, but have developed a mutual respect for another. The video created mix feelings in each group. On the one hand, it is important to respect others who are different than we are. However, if another person’s belief system is antagonistic to your own, it may be difficult to find a way to reach out to such an individual.  

            In the end, I was very impressed with how open, polite, and considerate all of the students were in these groups. There was an acknowledgement that we show respect in many different ways as we go about our daily activities. Also, as we build in character, there needs to be an acceptance that universal validation of the things that are important to us is unrealistic. However, finding ways of spreading kindness and showing caring should never be discouraged and highly promoted. These discussions have helped us all learn much about our individual value systems and acceptance that we always have room for growth.

Matt Littlefield is the Director of Education at Ironwood