How Do I Balance Respect for Self and Respect for Others When the Two Seem to Conflict?

This month I failed at balance. I said yes to too many meetings, but all of them seemed essential. I receive an average of 100 emails a day, many that require responses. I have projects that require constant care and attention. I take on just as much volunteer work, social engagements, and so on. My life is filled with so much “duty” that I lack quiet, meditative peace and even time to take care of mortal essentials such as eating meals and sleeping enough. So today I recommitted myself.

I sat in a meeting that went 15 minutes over its allotted time. To put it frankly, the person in charge was inconsiderate of the time of the individuals in the meeting and was inconsiderate of those who had scheduled the room next. I was appalled at such disrespectful behavior. However, a friend of mine, who sat several rows back, told me she just left at the hour it was supposed to end. She didn’t walk out in rage, but she had another commitment and slipped out the back. Sometimes I wonder what to do in these situations. Out of what I think is respect, I stay the extra 15 minutes. After all, it’s a prisoner’s dilemma. If we all were to decide to leave early from the long meeting, we’d all be walking out the door at the same time. An individual who wants to leave on time from a meeting that goes long depends on those who stick it out and stay so he or she can slip out the back somewhat unnoticed. I am curious to see what my mentor will say. He is much wiser than me about the concept of respect.

The theme I notice in this, though, is that I am allowing others to dictate how I spend my time. A hundred people, through a mix of email, phone calls, and walk-ins, are controlling my schedule. The meeting that went long controlled more of my schedule than I thought it would. There is value in being flexible, but when do I need to be firm – and how do I do it? How can I change my behaviors to say no and not feel guilty for doing so?

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