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Truly great people treat others with respect

In 1962, Alexander Tvardovsky, the editor in chief of the Russian literary magazine Novy Mir, took some manuscripts home to read in bed. Unimpressed with what he was reading, one by one he tossed the manuscripts aside, until he came to the manuscript of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's now-classic novel, "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich," and read 10 lines.

Describing - at that moment - his profound experience in interconnecting with the overwhelming message of the novel, and the impassioned writing and keen insight of its author, Tvardovsky later told a friend: "Suddenly I felt that I couldn't read it like this. I had to do something appropriate to the occasion. So I got up. I put on my best black suit, a white shirt with a starched collar, a tie and my good shoes. Then I sat at my desk and read a new classic."In his private but momentous gesture, Tvardovsky was granting Solzhenitsyn consummate respect for who he was as a person and for the invaluable insight and work he gifted the world.

Respect for others - a condition essential to positive human relationships - is also manifested in myriads of other ways, including that of making no distinctions with regard to such socioeconomic factors as age, gender, or social status. Ralph Nader, for example, showed utter respect for women in an age in which "sexual discrimination" or "sexual harassment" were unknown cultural terms and women were demeaned in multitudinous ways simply because of sexual gender.

Nader treated women, even beautiful women, exactly as he treated men - without condescension, and in a language directed exclusively to the mind. Nothing in his manner drew attention to any sexual differentiation.

Respect also occurs as one person affirms another's intrinsic value.

Frederic Collins sorts people into two categories - those who affirm and those who don't, observing: "There are two types of people: those who come into a room and say, `Well, here I am!,' and those who come in and say, `Ah, there you are.' "

With respect to the latter category, Ralph Waldo Emerson possessed the ability to affirm - a propensity recognized by a scrubwoman who always attended his lectures. When asked if she understood Emerson's presentations, she replied she did not. But, she said, "I like to go and see him stand up there and look as though he thought everyone was as good as he."

Respect is revealed in the dignity and reverence with which one imbues the human spirit.

Nadia Boulanger, for example, speaks of Madame Duval, an 80-year-old woman who cleaned the floor in her workplace. "I think of her with profound respect and reverence," relates Boulanger, telling of a day Madame Duval knocked at her door. When greeted by Boulanger, Madame Duval said to her: "Mademoiselle, I know you don't like to be disturbed, but the floor, come and see it; it shines!"

"In my mind Stravinsky and Madame Duval will appear before the Lord for the same reason," Boulanger says. "Each had done what he does with all his consciousness. When I said this to Stravinsky, who knew Madame Duval, he said, `How you flatter me, for when I do something, I have something to gain. But she, she has only the work to be done well.' " Respect is also conveyed through the dimension of choices.

Because of another engagement, for example, author James A. Michener once declined an invitation to attend a White House ceremony and to dine with a United States president.

Instead, he accepted an invitation to speak briefly at a dinner honoring a high school teacher he credited with teaching him vital writing skills. In a note to the White House, Michener explained the reason for his decline: "I know you will not miss me at your dinner, but she might at hers."

Respect may also be extended to animals, as in an instance involving George Schaller, one of America's most distinguished naturalists. Interviewing Schaller, journalist Michael Ryan tells of how, even after 45 years in the field, Schaller "retains his sense of wonder at the animals he studies. His eyes lit up in almost childlike awe when he told me" the following story:

" `I was studying pandas one day,' he said. `I was sitting on the ground and one female panda came walking through the bamboo. She just plopped down right next to me and fell asleep.

" `That kind of acceptance by an animal is a wonderful feeling,' Schaller added. `If we treated all animals with respect, they would react to us like that.' "

Finally, respect is manifested by persons who view themselves as equals to every other human being and thus act accordingly.

Carl Sandburg decries people who assess themselves as of more value than others. In his lifetime, Sandburg abhorred the word "exclusive," as applying to membership in exclusive clubs or living in exclusive communities. Exclusivity suggested superiority, Sandburg judged.

Some years ago a man demonstrated his own solid conviction that all men are equal. On a Sunday morning, in deep discussion over a hedge with several of his neighbors, this man heard one of his neighbors vociferously denigrating a new neighbor, whom he called a "foreigner." Puzzled, the man, whose own experience with the new neighbor had been positive, inquired about the cause of the man's annoyance. "Well, take a look at their house. He has painted his front door red!" exclaimed the man.

At this, the other man walked away from the group and, a few minutes later he was back, standing on his own porch, painting his own front door red.