Re-spect: CSI’s First Core Value

Respect is a worldview. Perhaps more exact, respect is a way of viewing the world. Respect comes from the Latin verb specere, meaning ‘to look at,’ along with its prefix re, meaning ‘back’ or ‘again.” The word ‘inspect’ comes from the same root. To in-spect something means ‘to examine,’ or ‘to look into.’ To re-spect something means to give something a second look, to take it into deeper consideration. Adopting an attitude of respect, one begins to doubt the truth of first judgments, biases, stereotypes and prejudices. The respectful person acknowledges the presence of all of these, but also sees through them.  The respectful person brackets the convenient categorizations of society, convinced that deeper realities lie beneath them. The respectful person looks again and again, discovering more, learning more. Respect is a way of seeing the world. Without this vision, we cannot effectively pursue our mission at Community Systems. That is why it is the first of our core values.

The people we support rarely get a second look from society. They are judged with a quick glance and written off as having limited capacity and value. Rarely are they given the abiding consideration inherent to respect. Rarely are they afforded the time and patient observation required to uncover their gifts and deepest worth. It is sad to say, but the people we care for are far more likely to be inspected than respected. They are assessed, evaluated, and tested regularly; all of which happens routinely and without difficulty. But establishing a genuine human connection, a friendship, or even an equitable social exchange with a stranger (one not characterized by pity or infantilization), is a never ending challenge for almost every person we support. They are inspected without a hiccup. But to be respected? That requires moving heaven and earth.  As people who support them, as people who advocate on their behalf, if we ourselves don’t start with respect then we’ve defeated ourselves (and failed them) before we’ve even started. Respect is critical to our role as advocates. It is also at the core of our supports.

At CSI, we strive to offer individual, person-centered, supports. All people are complex. They change from day-to-day, year-to-year. Only by approaching someone with respect, looking again and again, truly seeing and hearing what the person is telling us, can we hope to offer supports that are relevant and tailored to that specific person. The respectful Direct Support Professional (DSP) questions blanket statements like “he doesn’t like to go to the store,” or “she hates crowds,” or “he could never go swimming.” The respectful DSP inquires into the history of such statements: “when was the last time he tried going to a store? Are there particular stores he doesn’t like? Are there particular days he would prefer to go?” The respectful DSP receives the reality as it is being presented, but then has the courage to look again, to go deeper, to ask more so as to learn more. Without the respectful approach we simply cannot offer adequate individualized supports. Without the respectful approach we are destined to work among outmoded support strategies and lazy blanket judgments, inert and encrusted relics passed from one shift to the next.

Developing and practicing the discipline of respect, of looking-again, we are always renewed. Looking again and again, we learn to question our current way of thinking, our biases, our own prejudices. Respectful, we are constantly evolving. This is perhaps respect’s greatest power: the power it has to change us. When we approach the world with respect, we always find something new; our minds change, new ideas spark, we find more in the world worthy of honor and love. It is essential to practice respect for the fulfillment of our mission at CSI, but practicing it, we find that our whole world changes.

Respect is a way of seeing the world. It is a way of seeing the world new, again and again. CSI has listed respect as the first of its core values, and it is easy to understand why. Respect empowers us to advocate effectively, to support individually and to grow personally. Without it, we are lost. Without the vision respect grants, we are blinded, in the dark, stumbling thoughtlessly among stereotypes, numbly lounging within the status quo. Without respect, our other core values are lifeless. In short, respectful eyes are the only eyes that can see the way to the fulfillment of our mission. Respectful eyes are the only eyes that can open the eyes of others.