I am going share a personal experience with you today… the kind of story that is emotional for a lot of people in 2019 America. It is a story about an interaction I recently had with a police officer.
I am making the choice to share this story with you with a healthy dose of trepidation, and against the advice of some colleagues, because I understand and acknowledge that your experience with police officers may very well differ from the one I am about to describe. But I am making the choice to share it nonetheless, because I believe that this story is, at its essence, about two people treating each other with respect. And those are the kinds of stories that need to be shared, as often as possible.
Two weeks ago, I was taking my family away for the weekend, to Vermont. My kids are young, a nine-year-old son and a four-year-old daughter. We were on Interstate 89, still about 45 minutes from our destination, and I was speeding… nothing crazy, but I was definitely above the stated speed limit. Eventually there were blue flashing lights in my rear view mirror, and I pulled over.
The officer approached, asked me for my license and registration, which we handed over. My wife and I were polite and contrite, as we always try to be in these sort of situations. (Admittedly, in my younger years, this was definitely not always the case.) And when we were asked if we knew why we were pulled over, I didn’t try to make any excuses. I was speeding, and I owned up to the fact. My stated reason was simply that I wanted to get my kids to bed at a reasonable hour.
He thanked me, walked back to his squad car to run my plates and write up the ticket. While he was gone, we had a good discussion with our son (our daughter slept through the whole thing) about owning up to the mistake of speeding, and that no matter what, all people, including those in positions of authority – teachers, librarians, crossing guards, police officers, airport security – should be treated with respect at all times.
A few minutes later, he came back to the car, and said the following: “I want to thank you. You treated me with respect and you didn’t try to lie. You wouldn’t believe some of the things people say to me. So I am going to give you a warning, and ask you to slow down and be careful. It is getting a little icy out. Be safe and have a good night.”
He didn’t have to do that, and in my experience, nothing like this has ever happened before. I have been polite to other officers on other occasions, and always gotten the ticket that I deserved. But in this case, in addition to the good parenting moment that I am proud of, I was also reminded of an important lesson that goes to the heart of relationships, civility and human connection.
Treating people nicely guarantees you nothing in return. In fact, I can think of many personal examples where the exact opposite occurred, where my demonstrated respect had no impact at all and I was still treated poorly. I remember being treated badly in a prior job because the client viewed me as too young and lacking enough experience to help him. I remember countless summer examples of rude behavior while waiting tables. I remember a former colleague on a non-profit board who, no matter what I said or did, disagreed with everything out of my mouth and tried to undercut every initiative I supported.
I could go on, and I am sure you have plenty of your own examples of being treated unfairly and poorly. We all know what that feels like, and it doesn’t feel good. Treating someone else with respect does not guarantee you anything in return. But part of the lesson for me the other night was that even though treating someone with respect may not generate the response we deserve, it is still worthwhile and something to think about. You never know if and when your respect for others will get returned back to you.
I will close this post where I started… with an acknowledgment that interactions with police officers are a sensitive topic for many people. But despite the sensitivity of the issue, I decided to share this story with you because of two beliefs: I believe treating people with respect is essential in the building of relationships and connections; and I believe that while your experiences may be different than mine, there is still value in sharing our positive experiences with each other.
We live in a confusing, emotional world, where there are fewer and fewer public examples for our kids about the right way to treat people. So whenever we have a good example of respect being met with respect, that should be shared… widely and loudly.
Have a great day.
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