July is the month we say goodbye to some regular writers who have aged out or are moving on to other projects. We’re extra thankful for Nick today—he’s been writing with us since August 2015.
A few years ago, I began a job as a section grower at a greenhouse. I was accountable for several acres’ worth of annuals and perennials, making sure each plant was watered on time and growing on schedule. It felt like a big responsibility; I was in charge of deciding which growth regulators to apply, mixing chemicals, and applying pesticides. Sunlight, temperature, moisture levels, water application methods, chemical application methods—it was a lot to keep track of. We section growers became accustomed to walking a tightrope of sorts: apply too much pesticide, and burn an entire floor’s worth of product, but apply too little, and risk an aphid infestation. Apply too much growth regulator, and suddenly your daylilies are stretched and spindly, or they might stop growing altogether. But apply too little, and they no longer meet customer specifications. We were reminded every so often just how much money was at stake with each application we made, and we double-checked ourselves accordingly.
During my orientation, the assistant head-grower could sense my rising blood pressure as he explained all of this. “I know it’s a lot of responsibility to handle, so let me tell you about my management philosophy,” said Daryl. “A lot of managers view trust as something that has to be earned, right? Prove you can do a good job long enough, and eventually you’ll garner respect and earn trust. If you can ride out the first few weeks, keep your head down and do your job, it’ll all work out in the long run. For some bosses, that’s the way they operate and it works for them just fine.”
He paused before continuing. “However, I think there’s a better approach. Nick, until you prove me wrong, you already have my trust and respect. With me, that’s a given. That’s just the way I like to operate. I feel like it starts relationships out on the right foot. Maybe I’ll find out down the road that you’re incompetent and lazy, but for now, I’m going to assume that you’re a hard worker and a reliable employee, and we’ll go from there.”
It was extremely refreshing to hear that from someone higher up on the employment ladder than myself, and it’s a lesson I’ve taken to heart. It helped me transition into that job with steady nerves and a healthy relationship, but it’s also affected the way I introduce and conduct myself in general. Not to mention it’s been a killer philosophy topic to ask peers:
What is the relationship between respect and trust? Should respect/trust be earned or given freely?
Like any good philosophy question, it’s worthy of discussion, and there’s probably not a consensus answer. On a recent business trip to Kansas, I had this debate with a colleague I’d just met, and his gut reaction was that of course respect needs to be earned! What kind of cutthroat society are we promoting when we don’t work towards respect and the concept of trust becomes hollow? If you trust everyone, you’re a sucker and you’re going to get burned over and over again. No, it takes a while to build trust and respect. This colleague brought up another good point: we as a society bristle against those who demand our respect without earning it. (Admittedly, this was the flipside of Daryl’s stance that I hadn’t acknowledged yet).
So what’s the downside of having to earn respect? Bosses get a bad rap for the position they hold, but maybe you’ve had one who viewed your every action with skepticism, second-guessed all your decisions, and didn’t trust you. All I’m suggesting is that maybe that unnecessary paranoia could’ve been avoided with more trust up front. You are not owed this, but wouldn’t it be nice if relationships started out by assuming the best?
Ultimately, we concluded that you should never expect respect from others, but you can do others a favor by granting it to them in advance.
Of course, each situation calls for common sense. It’s never a bad idea to lock your car while you go grocery shopping, and you’re not offending anyone by doing so, even though it implies a subconscious lack of trust in the neighborhood.
But maybe next time a stranger asks for yet another handout, a sibling asks for yet another favor, or a neighbor asks for yet another tool, consider spending less time weighing the consequences of obliging them. It doesn’t hurt the relationship to put yourself in their shoes and try to see the glass as half full. In my experience, I’ve been rewarded with a stronger relationship foundation far more often than I’ve been burned. If the cost of spreading love is occasionally getting taken advantage of, I’m okay with that. It doesn’t happen often.
Ever since I learned that my in-laws have a family motto (“Try new things often”), I’ve been trying to come up with my own motto, something my wife, future kids, and I can strive toward in the future. While working in the Upper Peninsula on a long-term contract, I found myself trying to establish a rapport with some grizzled potato farmers who viewed the world very differently than I do. Knowing that I had to spend every day for the next four months with them, I knew it was imperative that we figure out a way to bridge our differences and establish common ground—to earn their trust and foster respect. It would’ve been easy to be the nameless, faceless, emotionless contractor who showed up at the farm every day and did his job, but I knew my time up there would be a lot more rewarding with healthy relationships.
Kamala Harris was recently interviewed on The Daily Show, and she fielded a question about how she planned to reach out to conservatives, Trump supporters, and other people who had no intention of ever voting for someone like her. To summarize her answer, she reminded us that “the vast majority of us have so much more in common than what separates us.” At the end of the day, we all have hopes and dreams, ideologies and livelihoods; we all experience uphill battles and moments in the sun, and we would do well to build on these shared experiences. Any candidate who makes unity among Americans a top priority certainly has my attention.
To be fair, I did have a lot in common with those farmers, so establishing common ground wasn’t terribly difficult. I grew up on a farm. I get up early. I work hard. I love the outdoors, I drink beer on weekends, and let’s be frank, it doesn’t hurt that I’m also a white male. Race and gender do give me a certain premeasure of credibility in certain situations, and it’d be wrong not to acknowledge that.
There were disagreements and… awkward moments, to phrase it lightly, but for the most part we grew to respect one another deeply. They’d tease me for my penchant for Thai food and I’d tease them about never having been south of the Mackinac Bridge, but beyond that I truly felt like we had each other’s backs.
Seeing the Trump sticker on one of their trucks often left a sour taste in my mouth (it’s one thing to be a closet voter, quite another to support loudly and proudly), but at the end of the day, I didn’t let that lens taint the fact that this was a really, really good person.
“Be the light” is kind of a dowdy motto, but it’s the strategy I kept coming back to as I continued to build trust and respect that winter. And what does “Be the light” mean exactly? In my mind, it’s all about being a positive influence, an uplifting presence, an encouraging voice. Seeing others from the “glass half full” perspective, and pointing that out. It means assuming the best in people, even if you might be wrong. Pouring more into your relationships than you suspect you’ll get out of them. Taking the high road, even if it’s a one-way street. At your own potential expense, I think it makes the world a brighter place.
As I reflect back on my time as a post calvin writer, that’s really the message I hope I’ve conveyed throughout these past few years. I’m blessed to be a part of such an amazing group of authors. The articulate description, thorough research, sharp wit, compelling storylines, and commitment to social issues I’ve seen here have made me reflect on my life, my views, and my craft countless times. These authors are truly bringing about meaningful dialogue and positive change. Me, I preach spending time outdoors and giving away respect for free. If you’ve taken nothing else from my time here, I hope you visit Pure Michigan often, and be the light always.
Nick Meekhof (’15) graduated with a major in writing and a minor in geography. A farmer for the first twenty-three years of his life, Nick currently works for the Michigan Department of Agriculture. When he’s not traversing the state conducting orchard inspections, he can be found exploring the rivers, forests, and small towns all throughout the Great Lakes State. His current goals include kayaking one hundred Michigan rivers, swimming in Lake Michigan during every month of the year, and visiting as many Michigan breweries as possible.