Modern society tends to think that respect is earned through achievement. This is wrong. Who you are and how you do things earns you respect, not what you achieve.

I was invited to participate in the oversight of a self-help center where respect flew out the window. It appeared to have started with a loss of self-respect; “I cannot do anything so I am not worth anything…” So individuals spend their time in their rooms; they do not communicate, they do not participate and they do not contribute. There is very little friendship and there is no community spirit. There is a loss of mutual respect. A small minority work themselves to a standstill to keep the ship afloat, while the passengers lie and mope on their beds. And when the loss of self-respect and mutual respect spilled over to the loss of caregiver respect, caregiving started to suffer; “If they don’t care about themselves, why should we care for them?”

The consequence was a loss of morale, bickering over leadership and a general slide in the administration of the center - rents were not gathered, incomplete documentation led to loss of income and residents as well as caregivers abused privileges. Fund raising and marketing were left to those residents that still took pride in themselves - that still had a community spirit and respected themselves.

The center was placed under administration. An audit of the state of affairs was performed, pertinent issues were identified and processes were implemented to rectify wrongs, internally as well as externally. Pro bono legal and HR services were obtained and caregiver training is happening. Financial stability has been re-established and issues with local government and other entities are being addressed. The holes in the ship have been patched and she is afloat again. For now…

But now the real work begins. The “patient” has survived an “accident” and “surgery” was performed, but the outcome was quadriplegia and intensive rehabilitation is needed. For in effect, this self-help center experienced a trauma that rendered it quadriplegic. And now the challenge is to rehabilitate the center back to viable functionality.

Restoring respect is fundamental to the restoration of the center and must start with restoring self-respect – a sense of self worth – in each individual resident. This must happen in conjunction with the restoration of mutual respect and the building of a team. My self worth will increase by leaps and bounds when I realise that my team depends on me. But for this we need a cause. And for the residents of a self-help center that is also their home, what better cause is there than to make sure that their home is secure? Actually, there is a better cause; it is for the residents to reach out into their community and inspire those that cross their paths, starting with the caregivers employed by them. 

Caregiving is not just the task of a caregiver. If I do not care for myself, if I am not prepared to take care of myself, how can I expect my caregiver to be passionate about caring for me? Caring out of sympathy will only last a short while, but caring out of respect for the quality of the person cared for, that is lasting.

Life is not just about surviving and inspiring others. Life is also about fun; joy-of-life, enthusiasm, laughing… I found that one of the best ways to start a genuine hearty laugh is to look at myself stark naked in the mirror and just start laughing joyously, because although I look ridiculous, I am alive. Then go out and tell a friend how funny I looked to myself and laugh about it together. Once we are able to laugh at ourselves, recovery starts.

Because you see, an oversight committee can oversee, they can facilitate the revision of the house constitution, they can assist with revisiting the residents’ code of conduct and the caregivers’ service level agreements. They can even facilitate the expulsion of residents that do not pull their weight, or transfer into frail care centers those residents that are too frail and sick to participate in the activities of the selfhelp center. But healing comes from within. To heal one’s own self-respect, to rebuild mutual respect; this needs a mind shift, a change in attitude from within. Psychologists and Psychiatrists can help with depression and coaches can hype up team spirit, but if there is no inner will, none of this will work.

So, have a good laugh at yourself, then realise that God never allows anything without a purpose. So no matter how obscure and unreasonable your situation may seem, pick yourself up and rise to the challenge. Life is not about the situation you find yourself in; life is about how you choose to respond. Start caring for yourself, start caring for your fellow residents, and start caring about your community and they will start caring back.

And life will again become worth living!