Early in my first year of medical school, I attended a class that discussed the physician-patient encounter. I was impressed when the professor urged us to approach our patient as the “guest of honor.” While at the time, it seemed he overplayed the concept a bit, the message still stuck with me. Years later, when I felt like rushing through a patient visit because I was running behind, or I dreaded dealing with a difficult patient, I recalled that I should treat each person as a “guest of honor.”
Many years later, I had the opportunity to provide medical care to local county employees. The county commissioner promoting the program had a keen interest in seeing it succeed, leading him to suggest that I give these patients special attention. Although it rubbed me the wrong way that someone would suggest I treat one group of people differently from another, I knew he was primarily concerned about the outcome for the program and not promoting discrimination. In response, I told the official that it was my approach to treat every person—regardless of their position, appearance, or income—with the same high level of honor and respect, and if I continued that practice, we would both get what we wanted.
“I” is for “Important”
Last week, I introduced the acronym, “SINGLE,” as a mnemonic for six practices to help build and strengthen relationships. The beginning letter, “S,” introduced the first of these: to smile. Today’s topic keys off of the letter “I”: to treat each person as someone important. If you follow my blogs weekly, this topic might remind you of another article I wrote a few weeks ago, The Gift of Honor. Indeed, to honor someone is to treat them as a person of worth, value, and importance. You can read more about this here.
While I prefer “honoring” over “treating someone as important,” I think there are some meaningful distinctions.
What I don’t like about emphasizing a person’s importance is that it can be taken to mean playing to someone’s ego. Why would someone do this? To get them to like them or to manipulate the other person, both of which are wrong.
There are also people who will treat one person as more important than another. While social convention might prompt us to use titles and gestures that recognize someone’s authority, they should never be taken to assign greater value to one person over another.
In James 2:1-13, the writer condemns the practice of showing partiality toward the wealthy. His message: We should never make distinctions that lead us to honor some and dishonor others.
But there’s something to be said for recognizing one’s importance, for “to honor someone” could be taken to mean: “Be nice to everybody.”
Jesus Shows the Way
The word “importance” has some strength to it. It’s not wishy-washy. It tells us that we should treat every person, no matter how lowly or insignificant this world judges them to be, as a person of inestimable value and worth—the guest of honor.
Jesus put it like this:
For I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me. Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you? And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’
Matthew 25:35-40 NABRE
A Person of Importance is part of an ongoing series on relationships and the Christian faith, and the second of a 6-part sub-series on the SINGLE Approach.