“If I am not for myself, who is for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” – Hillel
There is a beautiful tale of a great Sage who was watching the crowds of people coming to Jerusalem for one of the festivals. He stood on a hill, surrounded by his disciples. Suddenly he raised his arms heavenward and cried out, "Lord thank- you for the blessing of all these people". His disciples were aghast, and criticized him. "Master you are one of the wisest men in the world. Why should you be grateful for those who are inferior to you?" He looked at them sternly, and chastised them. "Do you see that man over there? He is a butcher. He provides me with the meat that I eat. That man is a tailor. He makes my clothing. And, that man is a baker who supplies me with bread. If it weren't for them, I could not be who I am."
This is the essence of community love. If each person is contributing to the well being of the community in accordance with their particular capabilities, then each deserves the respect and gratitude of the others for who they are. In this case, respect is earned through the outcomes of an individual's actions and the benefits they bring to the community. Respect is not measured by title, or wealth, or power, or wisdom, or any other characteristic of an individual. It is measured by the benefit that each individual brings to the community.
In this environment, a mystical exchange takes place. As each individual learns to respect others for who they are, his/her respect for her/himself increases. This cycle is the source of self-respect, and, ultimately, to true self-empowerment. It provides meaning to the first command given to Abraham: "Go out to yourself" (Gen. 12:1).
The story of the building of the Tabernacle, Ex. 35-40, provides another example of this process. Each member of the community participated in the building of the Tabernacle. Everyone brought the materials and/or the talents needed for its construction. All had an investment in the Tabernacle, and all were elevated by its presence.
Unfortunately, this does not describe the world in which we live. In our world, respect and gratitude of this sort are rare. Then we are confronted with a dilemma. How do we acquire self-respect in this world? Surprisingly, the answer is quite simple. We train ourselves to appropriately respect others.
The training is a variant of the process discussed in the previous post ("Love"). There is a simple exercise that I recommend to start this training. Commit to find a reason to say thank-you to, at least, nine people every day, three family members, three friends or co-workers and three strangers. Each thank-you must be personalized and sincere. For example, suppose your server in a restaurant was particularly pleasant and attentive. Then, at the end of the meal you might say, "I really enjoyed your pleasant attitude. It made my meal all the better. Thank-you very much."
Since you are looking for something unique in that person, you become better able to see others as they really are. By responding to people in terms of what is important to them, you will start to discover that you have the capacity to impact on the lives of others. In most cases, the impact will be small. Over time, you will become aware that these small encounters can be life changing for some.
By offering positive incentives to others, your self-respect will grow. As your self-respect grows, you will become less dependent on the opinion of others. You will be able to put aside the barriers to yourself and become who you really are. Self-empowerment is the ability to be yourself. Once again, we confront the metaphysical mystery. As you seek to help others achieve greater respect for themselves, you receive the greatest benefit.
Because of the world we live in, this process must be selective. Otherwise, we would suffer for our efforts. It, necessarily, presumes that all parties that are involved are trying to enhance the well-being of their community. However, it does not require that all participate to the same degree. Their offering should be consistent with their relative capability to contribute. From this perspective, everyone has the ability to invest in the well-being of the community and their own self-respect.