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  • Writer's pictureBrandon Robbins

Learning to Walk with Respect

Updated: Sep 28, 2022

I have always been on a search, seeking connection and a sense of belonging. Luckily; my career at the time, was able to take to around the world, and I was able to explore cultures and spirituality in a way I could never hope for. Once this round-the-world trip was completed, I was called home and when I returned there they were, the teachings of my own culture. I just had to return home, and ever since then, I have been investing my time and energy into learning more about the Seven Sacred Teachings of our Grandfathers. As I write and allow my thoughts to pass to my hands I hope I will further my understanding. I have just finished a discussion group, where these teachings were the focus. We gathered to shared medicine with each other and round the circle. It is interesting because we have completed this circle twice now and the insights we have gathered and shared continue to get deeper, not only learning to define our understanding of these teachings but learning how to stand and walk with them. I am still learning how to walk them. This is my journey, and the lessons I am learning.


Respect is taught by Buffalo. A gentle giant with a temper. I wonder why this is, what about this animal teaches this because I didn’t understand. Discussion in my learning circle discussed this very topic, respect. It was there that I learned why. Buffalo was depended on greatly for the assets it gifted my ancestors. When hunted it gave not only meat but provisions and the means to make tools to build their homes. The pelts and hides became clothing and shelter, bones became tools and the sinew became thread. None of this was possible without this animal and respect was learned, without that respect, the buffalo would be over-hunted and become extinct and the things my ancestors depended on would also disappear, changing how they would live. So they respected buffalo, giving the herd space to live freely and when the hunt came, they would take only what they needed for the year while attempting to avoid mothers with calves. The calves were the future of the herd after all, and were treated with importance much like the youths are in my community. They are our future.

Thinking about respect in this way, and how it affects the people in my life and my community. I find myself redefining what respect means for me and I could bring that into practice, how can I be better, what does it mean and what would it look like to others I model this for and would I recognize it in myself?

When it comes to living a better life, what do I need to feel respected? I need time and space, what that means is that when I am needed to be alone to lick the wounds of a defeat I don’t always need people to care for me, and nurse me back to health. During this time I am calculating how to tackle that hurdle and be successful the next time, or the time after that. What I don’t need is people singing my praises when I don’t believe it myself, I mean, people and the toxic positivity, offering words of praise when they don’t actually believe the words they are saying, it's just the right thing to do in their minds. Living in a society of blowing smoke, and offering words with no weight. The second thing is time, I know I need time to heal and process my experience and that takes as long as it takes. There are people in my life that would like to quantify an experience as a measurement of time. The value of an experience is only worth a set amount of time. I've found in my workplace that a death of a loved one is only worth three days of time and I’m expected to be back working at my peak performance. I’m just expected to be over it. Healing doesn’t work like that, it takes as long as it needs to and I am not on anyone’s calendar but my own.

This journey is also understanding what I need to respect myself. I have limitations, there is only so much I can do in a single day. There is a finite number of people I can help, the biggest way I help is by listening and providing insight into their experiences. When I can’t do anymore when I use that energy and that sponge is dry I am no longer helping. I stop hearing, and my ability to hold that container of safety becomes compromised and I stop being an effective counsellor. That all said I need boundaries. What that looks like is, for me to build a better relationship with my own needs, when I hit my limit to say no, and be heard. To wake up in the morning to know my body and the limitations of the day. I might still be a young man but to say I wake up in top form every day, I would be lying to you. That is not always so, there are reasons, for not always sleeping well. Burdens of life and the emotions that come with them can take over the forefront of the mind, the body telling you that these take priority. When you are in a profession like mine, dividing your attention between the two things, juggling more balls in the air but being mindful of the limit of balls you can juggle before they all fall to the floor. Knowing my limits and having my clients hear me and respect my no, is important to me in that relationship. As much as I know I am a helper in bringing support, the boundary is that I am not at their beck and call. I am not to drop everything to come to their aid. I am not a hero, to come and rescue them from their own life. My job is to provide them with tools and help them refine those tool so they can do it themselves.

Self-respect is hearing my body’s “no” and allowing myself to rest and relax. Having and holding my boundaries and no exceptions to the rule. That boundary extends to how I allow others to talk to me, rude, harmful words aimed in my direction. I am not perfect in this, I know I use harmful words to retaliate. I wonder what it would be like to hold them accountable for the things they say. Self-respect is holding myself accountable for the things I say, and sometimes those things have consequences. I remember being at a fair years ago with a friend and he was preparing for a competition and could not eat any sweets. I had a bag of donuts in my hand, and I played with the idea teasing him a bit, he wanted them but he is a disciplined man and doing well was a goal. I told him the thought brewing in my mind and he looked at me without skipping a beat.

“You could do that, but we wouldn’t be friends anymore. You doing that would make you an asshole and I’m not friends with assholes”

I literally stopped in my tracks as his words hit home, like fire etching in my mind. He was going to hold me accountable not only for my words but for my actions as well. As a result, I’d lose a good friend, my joke didn’t seem worth that. This wasn’t the first time he and I had life-altering talks where his words burned into me and changed how I interact not only with him but others in my life too.

Thinking about the lessons of buffalo, it was the livelihood of a nation, like salmon is to the west coast people, without it the people would be who they are and would have to find alternative ways to survive. I have people in my life that are intrinsic to the way I live. Without them, I wouldn’t be who I am. Without their words and their insights, I wouldn’t be me. There are people in my life that matter enough that it shapes how I behave because I want them to be proud of me. The things I do, and the things I don’t do, affect them in all sorts of ways. The times that I do hurt them, I find myself stopping and reflecting on how I do better so I don’t hurt them in the future. Because they matter to me, continuing to harm them would mean that they would one day be not there anymore. They’d vanish as buffalo did. There are people in my life that I depend on, without them I wouldn’t be the me that everyone knows loves or tolerates.

There is a lot to be gained from this thought. How to respect and be respected. It has to do with your integrity and knowing your limits. Now the question is how I model this. What does that look like? I don’t know. Is this something I can wake up and be? Or be able to look in the mirror and see? Respect is rooted in my actions, how I treat others and how I treat myself. Knowing what I need, and acquiring it. Speaking clearly to others, about how they can best support me in the moments I need it. Learning to speak more kindly, even when I am overrun with emotions, prioritizing myself as I process those emotions and how they live in and affect my body. Learning how best to use my voice and holding myself accountable for the things I say, am I making promises? Knowing the value and the importance of these promises I am making is this something I can perform? Or am I over-stretching myself?

Is this enough? It's going to have to be. Sure this journey is ongoing, I’m sure I’m going to revisit this lesson over and over again. Reframe and reflect on how I respect. Does it matter if I am respected so long as I respect myself? I hear strangers demanding respect, yelling and cursing at people for reasons I don’t know or understand. I find myself ignoring them just the same, while they bellow about their entitlement, demand after demand, while they treat the people around them like they are lower station. I never understood this. Yelling at people isn’t going to help matters, they are less likely to do the thing I ask and making demands for others to do things I could do would colour how people interact with me.

All of this colours how I interact with the world. Respect is also having gratitude. Being thankful for the people who support me, accepting the gratitude when I support others. It is a lot to think about and hopefully, I will be successful in putting these thoughts into action. My only question is now, would I recognize it?

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