Lessons Learnt from Amy Winehouse and Irwin Federman

All too often we believe respect is something that needs to be earned through a hierarchical ladder.

As we make our way up the ladder, leveling up year on year, we gain another ounce of respect. The higher we are up this ladder, the more we expect the people below us to look up to us (they are, after all, below you).

This is most commonly true, in my experience (albeit mostly a passive one), in office culture. The higher you are up the corporate ladder, the more respect you expect to feel beaming your way from colleagues laying at your feet. And often you feel like you deserve it, after all you were treated the same way by your superiors when you were in their position.

When tidying through my possessions a month or so ago, sat among a bunch of old David Bowie LPs I found a quote I’d jotted down three years ago:

Your job gives you authority, your behavior gives you respect – Irwin Federman

Have you ever met somebody working what you may personally consider a terrible job that acted towards you in such a manner that you respected them above anybody else in that moment? The same can be said for somebody in a so called “good job” that behaves in such a way that you can’t wait to get away from her fast enough.

This isn’t always the dynamic, mind. When I worked in a large department store a couple of years ago I dealt with high-profile celebrities and members of various royal families on a daily basis. In all but a couple of cases (out of hundreds), these people acted in such a way that I immediately liked them and respected them, not for their fame, hierarchy, or talent, but for how they behaved, with me, in that moment.

When Amy Winehouse died last year it killed me to listen to people around me say cruel things about her, and (in fantastic acts of cowardice) post comments about her on their Facebook profiles. I met her a year prior to her death, and she genuinely couldn’t have been a nicer girl. Despite the huge void between the supposed respect myself (as a common sales assistant) and she (as one of the worlds most successful artists) should garner, she looked me straight in the eye and spoke to me with absolute respect. Even her bodyguard, who to this day is still the largest man I have ever seen, treated me as one of their small family for the ten minutes we spent together.

When she died, far apart from all the images of her taking drugs, lashing out at fans, and generally living a destructive lifestyle, all I could picture was this small girl who, in that moment, had looked me straight in the eye and spoke to me with absolute respect.

Amy’s only one example. From Queens to footballers, from actors to comedians, it was always the same. No doubt their respect for the people around them has contributed in some part to their individual successes in their fields.

So you’re looking for respect? Stop focusing on levels and hierarchy and start focusing on people. Start to treat people as people and you’ll go a long way.

Your job gives you authority, your behavior gives you respect.


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Posted March 13, 2012 — Subscribe to keep up to date with my latest posts.

6 thoughts on “Lessons Learnt from Amy Winehouse and Irwin Federman

  1. Good one, Benjamin! Seeing celebrities struggle, sometimes very publicly, is a great lesson in compassion for us all; I learned that recently with Whitney Houston’s passing. Over the past few years, I had judged her behavior in various interviews, along with her continued drug use. After she passed away, I heard her songs being played on the radio in tribute and it just struck me that she was only human, the same as the rest of us. We’re doing the best we know how to do. I was thankful for her music and how much it contributed to my childhood. On a side note, I always find it refreshing when someone I don’t know or previously thought would have an attitude is very warm and down to earth. Being nice is nice! =)

    1. Glad you liked it Christopher, and I totally know what you mean. News agencies are especially good at hounding at a person for years, then after their death showing us all photos of this person as a child, for what reason other to make both us (and them) feel bad I’m not sure…

  2. Maybe we just find it hard to gather respect when we can’t observe peoples behavior as closely as we would like. Maybe that’s what drives us to love and hate celebrities so much (I speak for others here, seeing how I am a robot)

    Anyway. When I read this, my hand actually shot up in the air and nocked down the light-bulb forming above my head; that is to say, I have a question!

    How’d you figure the internets will influence the concept of behavior? People rarely look other people in the eye anymore, we try to decipher their hearts trough texts and profile pictures and tweets, and personability will undoubtedly be one of the first things to vanish. We need a whole new definition for the concept, seeing how a big chunk of our current meaning is dependent on in-person communication.

    Not do drown your blog with excess comments, but one of the stops in our road-trip was to a techno-hub in Columbia, where one of the things they’re creating was an app designed to seek out individuals “prone to” white supremacy based on their online behavior. Wilde, right? Maybe we’re looking at a future where data mining is a lot more efficient than eye-to-eyeing.. I’m gonna stop myself here before I succumb to the rudeness of answering my own question!

    Great post, hope Spain is being nice to you and vice versa :)

    1. I was feeling bad for not posting this week but it looks like you’ve gone and done so for me! Muchas gracias chica.

      That app sounds insane (we should probably keep it away from one Will Peach). I completely agree with you, change is happening, and a new definition of communication and personal connections is needed.

      You’re an amazing writer by the way. :)

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