Dignity and respect: Not a new concept

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Ruby Oville
  • 4th Fighter Wing Equal Opportunity
Dignity and respect aren't new concepts. However, this theme has been widely encouraged lately within the Air Force culture.

During a time of uncertainty and a focus on taking care of Airmen, many of us need to be reminded of these very critical terms and how to put them into action.

Dignity is defined by Webster's Dictionary as, "the quality of being worthy of honor or respect." Respect is defined as, "a feeling or understanding that someone or something is important and should be treated in an appropriate way."

The lessons these words teach are of great importance to me because it reminds me of my father's story and the need for greater emphasis.

My father was a migrant worker who did not learn to speak English fluently until he attended school. He grew up in a small, mostly Hispanic community. There were few Caucasian people in his town who were principals, political figures and teachers. At school, my parents and their classmates were subjected to what was known as "sticker and belt lines;" a punishment for speaking Spanish. This is when students were forced to run through lines and hit with branches or belts.

During his time working in the fields my father dealt with his share of discrimination. He and his friends were kicked out of restaurants and were often forced to live in substandard housing because they were Hispanic.

A 1972 issue of The Milwaukee Sentinel stated that my father filed a lawsuit on, "...behalf of all the residents of agricultural labor camps owned and operated by three of the defendants." The lawsuit was won, however, his experience with acts of disrespect and discrimination did not end there.

I remember hearing stories about his early days in the military. Weeks after completing Basic Military Training, my father met with his first commander; his first true impression of a leader in the Air Force. My father did not get too far into the conversation before the commander recommended he consider cross-training as soon as possible because with his heavy accent, he would not get far in the Air Operations career field.

What that commander didn't know is he gave my father an incentive to prove him wrong. I am happy to say he went far and dedicated 20 years to the Air Force, all-while working in Air Operations and retiring as a senior master sergeant.

Recently, Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Larry Spencer recounted a similar moment in his military career when a fellow Airman verbally attacked him calling him the "N" word. He spoke about how he felt the Air Force core values were violated.

Though acts like these are not new, I believe the Air Force has come a long way. In no way should that type of behavior be promoted or emulated because it causes negative effects. Our energy shouldn't be focused on solely taking care of ourselves, but those around us as well.

Tom Krause, poet and an inspirational speaker, once said, "Keep your eyes open. Guard your thoughts. Negativity lurks to divide you from one another so your better natures become poisoned with hate. This is not who you are. This is not who you were destined to be. Keep your eye on unity. Keep your eye on encouragement. Keep your eyes on love. Then negativity will take its place as a powerless force. That is when you will fulfill the purpose you were born to achieve."

Dignity and respect have been mentioned in regards to the demeaning acts of sexual assault in the military and through the words of Airmen who have been a victim of such a disgraceful crime.

The theme was also highlighted by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh, through the Airman-to-Airman video series.

In one video, Welsh said, "I think it's time we just look at ourselves in the mirror and we're honest about this as an issue. We're all part of this problem. All of us have passed things in our environment that we could have corrected and didn't. Whether it was an inappropriate joke or an offensive comment, most of us let it slide, and in doing so, we've allowed that bad behavior to become normal around us. In some cases we've even made the excuse that ... bad behavior was a part of our heritage..."

As a fellow Airman who takes pride in our core values, embraces diversity and the wonderful opportunity to work alongside people from all walks of life, I do my very best to treat others with dignity and respect. I also do not believe these less than amiable acts should be accepted as the norm or should be thought of as "our heritage."

Disparaging terms, discrimination, sexual harassment, sexual assault, toxic leadership and hostile work environments have no place in the Air Force. Basic concepts of right, wrong and how people should be treated are key.

We are often told what we should not do and, at times, that list can be extensive. Rather than speak about what shouldn't be done, let us focus on what should be done and how it can be achieved.

To promote dignity and respect:

- Know and live the core values
- Encourage honest communication
- Genuinely care and get to know people
- Strive to improve yourself as well as others
- Be just as good a follower as you are a leader
- Embrace diversity
- Utilize others' strengths and lending your strengths as well
I fully understand individuals grew up differently, were taught differently and have different morals and values. However, when we joined the military, an oath was taken to be part of an organization which respects diversity, a new set of values were taken on and a commitment was made to work toward the same mission to, "Fly, Fight and Win."
If we enhance behaviors and encourage others to do the same, we can all do our part to build and maintain a healthy human relations climate. Every Airman counts, each one of us is valuable and deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.

Whether we are here for a moment or for the long-haul, each of us has the responsibility to give 100 percent in all we do, not only for the mission, but for one another. We are wingmen and part of the Air Force family.