Written by Joy Quinn

 As a child growing up in a small town in Illinois in the 1940s, I was taught respect: for adults, animals, rules and other children. It did not occur to me that everyone did not learn the same values of respect especially for people of other religions or races.

There was one black family living in the town near where I worked part-time in a café when I was in high school. They had a son who was very involved in sports, and he visited the café with his white friends after games. He fit right in our small town, so I was unaware of discrimination between the races in other parts of the country at this time.

Respect for other people, or lack of respect, became apparent to me at the end of my first year of nursing school in Chicago in 1955. People with little money and no insurance were hospitalized on ward floors where there were four, or as many as 12, patients in a room.  Regardless of their financial situation, black patients were assigned to a ward designated for them only.

As a young nurse, I was assigned to a ward of black women where a young woman, in her 30s, was dying of kidney disease. When this woman was semi-conscious she would scream at me that she hated me because white people had always been so mean to her. I was so upset that she had been treated this way, and that she seemed to hate me because of what other white people had done. I wanted to show this patient that I respected her and wanted to make her comfortable and give her the best care possible.

This was my first experience of learning that everyone did not experience the world as I did. I learned that I could never know exactly what my patients, and others in the world, had lived through. I also learned that I could not take this patient’s apparent hatred towards me personally because I didn’t know what hardships she had faced due to racism. All I could do was treat her as I would treat every person – regardless of their appearance and behavior – with respect and care.

During this patient’s lucid times, she responded to my kindness and respect, and I felt us form a bond. In that hospital room away from society, I felt as if she and I could treat each other as all humans deserve to be treated – with respect and kindness.

Prayer: “Holy God, grant that my children may show proper respect to everyone, as your Word commands” (1 Peter 2:17a).

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