What Are You Doing With Your Life?
When a teenager tries to break into her home, Joey Garcia asks him an unexpected question.

By Joey Garcia

I was at my laptop working on a poem when I realized that late afternoon had darkened into evening. I should probably close the windows in the front of the house, I thought.

The early evening light was dim but when I walked into the kitchen, I could clearly see the young man straddling the windowsill, breaking into my home.

He was a teenager, 17 or 18 years old. I felt strangely calm, probably because of my two decades as a high school teacher and life coach for teens. So it didn’t surprise me when a sincere question came into my mind:

“What are you doing with your life?”

He froze. I asked again, louder this time, my hands flapping emphatically: “What are you doing with your life?”

Watching me carefully for a moment, he seemed to ponder the question. Then he began to back out of the window.

I told him I would count to three and yell for help.

The young man ran. With shaky hands, I closed and locked my windows, careful not to touch the one he had entered, or the screen he had removed to break in. Evidence, I thought.

When the police officer arrived, he asked me what happened. When I explained, he asked if I knew the young man. “No” I said. The officer narrowed his eyes. “Then why did you ask, ‘What are you doing with your life?'”

I don’t remember what I told him. But the truth is, I feel responsible for all kids. Every child is my child. I believe that every adult is responsible for guiding teens to maturity. We must all help every teenager we meet to navigate a path into a rewarding life.

Looking back, I think I understand why the young man ran away. To be asked, “What are you doing with your life?” is to be acknowledged as if you matter, are loved and are valued.

In the end, I committed the bolder theft. He tried to break into my house, but I tried to break into his consciousness.

With a Perspective, I’m Joey Garcia.

Joey Garcia is an advice columnist in Sacramento


Happy New Year from Resetting Respect, with a suggestion that resetting your respect attitude just might be the perfect New Year’s resolution, as it’s got all other positive resolutions covered!  Resolving to lose weight, or eat more veggies, or walk more miles? That’s self respect.  Resolving to spend more time with your kids, have real conversations with your partner, take your dog on more of those walks?  That’s respect for your family. Resolving to recycle more of your trash, compost your garbage, waste less water?  That’s respect for the environment.

When you decide to reset your respect attitude and acknowledge the value in everyone and everything, you reset the way you live your life.  And that’s to your benefit, the benefit of everyone else, and the benefit of this world we all share.

Why not give it a try?  It really will lower your stress level and just might save the world!


Cliff Schecter’s 2014 article from Moyers & company suggests 5 excellent ways ordinary citizens can have an impact on gun violence.  I encourage you to read the article and do what you can.

But I also suggest a 6th way all of us, regardless of political affiliation or position on the issue of gun violence, can have an impact.  I suggest we all need to breathe deeply and reset our respect attitude.  We all need to look for and nurture the value in every person we encounter.  The sweet little child across the street.  The difficult bagger at the grocery. The aggressive driver in our trunk.  The grouchy neighbor next door.

What would that do?

1) Every person would be valued and supported and less inclined to turn to violence for attention or validation.

2)  By paying better attention to all those around us, we would likely identify those in great need of help before they turned to violence.

3) The very difficult subject of gun violence could be discussed rationally by all sides of the topic, and an acceptable resolution reached.

4) The big picture of mental health/mental illness would not get lost in the debate and could actually be addressed.

5) The polarization in this country would be significantly reduced and we could approach and solve other divisive issues as well.

As I said in Resetting Respect, being respectful to all people, ideas and things seems simple.  It IS simple.  And profound.  It only requires an attitude adjustment, a shift from, “Show me,” to “You are valuable.”  We can start slowly and build the habit.  It is contagious — respect begets respect.  There is no penalty for slip-ups other than the status quo.  Respect doesn’t hurt anyone or anything.  It doesn’t cost anything other than a little mental effort to establish the habit.  Worst case scenario is that by living respectfully we lower our collective stress level.  Best case scenario is that respect becomes the norm and much of the rancor and posturing and pain and hatred in our society are eliminated. Then we, as individuals, as a society, and as a world can begin to address the major problems confronting us with a real chance to do something about them.  In fact, our respectful attitudes will already have begun the process!



 Although respect is both a verb and a noun, I like to think of it as something I need to do.  And, as I believe that respect is acknowledging a person or thing’s value and accepting responsibility for helping maintain that value, then all the other attributes on the list below will result from or be a part of the respect that is given.  Think about it.  Manners like “please” and “thank you,” or holding the door for another, are small behaviors that promote civil behavior and make recipients feel valued.  All those common-sense wisdoms we’ve learned, like “a penny saved is a penny earned” and  “waste not, want not,” ultimately have to do with taking care of the value of a person or an item.  “Haste makes waste” acknowledges the need for patience.  And I fervently believe that love frequently follows respect, especially when a person is hard to love. When I discover what a person is good at, what they know that is useful or interesting, the good that they do that I never would have guessed, and then I invest in helping them maintain that value, love for that person almost always follows, often much to my surprise.


In this TED talk, Dr. Ernesto Sirolli, a noted authority in the field of sustainable economic development, mentions reading “Small is Beautiful” by E. F. Schumacher.   He comments on how the author significantly influenced his thinking on economic development with Schumacher’s assertion that “if people do not wish to be helped, leave them alone. This should be the first principle of aid. The first principle of aid is respect.”

I’m not sure whether Schumacher meant for respect to be the first principle only of economic development, but it seems to me the idea works with virtually any kind of aid.

Subtitles and Transcript

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Transcribed by Joseph Geni
Reviewed by Morton Bast

0:16  Everything I do, and everything I do professionally — my life — has been shaped by seven years of work as a young man in Africa. From 1971 to 1977 — I look young, but I’m not — (Laughter) — I worked in Zambia, Kenya, Ivory Coast, Algeria, Somalia, in projects of technical cooperation with African countries.

0:46  I worked for an Italian NGO, and every single project that we set up in Africa failed. And I was distraught. I thought, age 21, that we Italians were good people and we were doing good work in Africa. Instead, everything we touched we killed.

1:17  Our first project, the one that has inspired my first book, “Ripples from the Zambezi,” was a project where we Italians decided to teach Zambian people how to grow food. So we arrived there with Italian seeds in southern Zambia in this absolutely magnificent valley going down to the Zambezi River, and we taught the local people how to grow Italian tomatoes and zucchini and … And of course the local people had absolutely no interest in doing that, so we paid them to come and work, and sometimes they would show up. (Laughter) And we were amazed that the local people, in such a fertile valley, would not have any agriculture. But instead of asking them how come they were not growing anything, we simply said, “Thank God we’re here.” (Laughter) “Just in the nick of time to save the Zambian people from starvation.”

2:18  And of course, everything in Africa grew beautifully. We had these magnificent tomatoes. In Italy, a tomato would grow to this size. In Zambia, to this size. And we could not believe, and we were telling the Zambians, “Look how easy agriculture is.” When the tomatoes were nice and ripe and red, overnight, some 200 hippos came out from the river and they ate everything. (Laughter)

2:43  And we said to the Zambians, “My God, the hippos!”

2:48  And the Zambians said, “Yes, that’s why we have no agriculture here.” (Laughter)

2:54  “Why didn’t you tell us?””You never asked.”

3:00  I thought it was only us Italians blundering around Africa, but then I saw what the Americans were doing,what the English were doing, what the French were doing, and after seeing what they were doing, I became quite proud of our project in Zambia. Because, you see, at least we fed the hippos.

3:21  You should see the rubbish — (Applause) — You should see the rubbish that we have bestowed on unsuspecting African people. You want to read the book, read “Dead Aid,” by Dambisa Moyo, Zambian woman economist. The book was published in 2009. We Western donor countries have given the African continent two trillion American dollars in the last 50 years. I’m not going to tell you the damage that that money has done. Just go and read her book. Read it from an African woman, the damage that we have done.

4:06  We Western people are imperialist, colonialist missionaries, and there are only two ways we deal with people: We either patronize them, or we are paternalistic. The two words come from the Latin root “pater,” which means “father.” But they mean two different things. Paternalistic, I treat anybody from a different culture as if they were my children. “I love you so much.” Patronizing, I treat everybody from another culture as if they were my servants. That’s why the white people in Africa are called “bwana,” boss.

4:51  I was given a slap in the face reading a book, “Small is Beautiful,” written by Schumacher, who said,above all in economic development, if people do not wish to be helped, leave them alone. This should be the first principle of aid. The first principle of aid is respect. This morning, the gentleman who opened this conference lay a stick on the floor, and said, “Can we — can you imagine a city that is not neocolonial?”

5:28  I decided when I was 27 years old to only respond to people, and I invented a system called Enterprise Facilitation, where you never initiate anything, you never motivate anybody, but you become a servant of the local passion, the servant of local people who have a dream to become a better person. So what you do — you shut up. You never arrive in a community with any ideas, and you sit with the local people. We don’t work from offices. We meet at the cafe. We meet at the pub. We have zero infrastructure. And what we do, we become friends, and we find out what that person wants to do.

6:26  The most important thing is passion. You can give somebody an idea. If that person doesn’t want to do it, what are you going to do? The passion that the person has for her own growth is the most important thing. The passion that that man has for his own personal growth is the most important thing. And then we help them to go and find the knowledge, because nobody in the world can succeed alone. The person with the idea may not have the knowledge, but the knowledge is available.

7:02  So years and years ago, I had this idea: Why don’t we, for once, instead of arriving in the community to tell people what to do, why don’t, for once, listen to them? But not in community meetings.

7:19  Let me tell you a secret. There is a problem with community meetings. Entrepreneurs never come, and they never tell you, in a public meeting, what they want to do with their own money, what opportunity they have identified. So planning has this blind spot. The smartest people in your community you don’t even know, because they don’t come to your public meetings.

8:00  What we do, we work one-on-one, and to work one-on-one, you have to create a social infrastructure that doesn’t exist. You have to create a new profession. The profession is the family doctor of enterprise,the family doctor of business, who sits with you in your house, at your kitchen table, at the cafe, and helps you find the resources to transform your passion into a way to make a living.

8:29  I started this as a tryout in Esperance, in Western Australia. I was a doing a Ph.D. at the time, trying to go away from this patronizing bullshit that we arrive and tell you what to do. And so what I did in Esperance that first year was to just walk the streets, and in three days I had my first client, and I helped this first guywho was smoking fish from a garage, was a Maori guy, and I helped him to sell to the restaurant in Perth,to get organized, and then the fishermen came to me to say, “You the guy who helped Maori? Can you help us?” And I helped these five fishermen to work together and get this beautiful tuna not to the cannery in Albany for 60 cents a kilo, but we found a way to take the fish for sushi to Japan for 15 dollars a kilo, and the farmers came to talk to me, said, “Hey, you helped them. Can you help us?” In a year, I had 27 projects going on, and the government came to see me to say, “How can you do that? How can you do — ?” And I said, “I do something very, very, very difficult. I shut up, and listen to them.” (Laughter)

9:48  So — (Applause) — So the government says, “Do it again.” (Laughter) We’ve done it in 300 communities around the world. We have helped to start 40,000 businesses. There is a new generation of entrepreneurswho are dying of solitude.

10:12  Peter Drucker, one of the greatest management consultants in history, died age 96, a few years ago.Peter Drucker was a professor of philosophy before becoming involved in business, and this is what Peter Drucker says: “Planning is actually incompatible with an entrepreneurial society and economy.”Planning is the kiss of death of entrepreneurship.

10:45  So now you’re rebuilding Christchurch without knowing what the smartest people in Christchurch want to do with their own money and their own energy. You have to learn how to get these people to come and talk to you. You have to offer them confidentiality, privacy, you have to be fantastic at helping them, and then they will come, and they will come in droves. In a community of 10,000 people, we get 200 clients.Can you imagine a community of 400,000 people, the intelligence and the passion? Which presentation have you applauded the most this morning? Local, passionate people. That’s who you have applauded.

11:32  So what I’m saying is that entrepreneurship is where it’s at. We are at the end of the first industrial revolution — nonrenewable fossil fuels, manufacturing — and all of a sudden, we have systems which are not sustainable. The internal combustion engine is not sustainable. Freon way of maintaining things is not sustainable. What we have to look at is at how we feed, cure, educate, transport, communicate for seven billion people in a sustainable way. The technologies do not exist to do that. Who is going to invent the technology for the green revolution? Universities? Forget about it! Government? Forget about it! It will be entrepreneurs, and they’re doing it now.

12:31  There’s a lovely story that I read in a futurist magazine many, many years ago. There was a group of experts who were invited to discuss the future of the city of New York in 1860. And in 1860, this group of people came together, and they all speculated about what would happen to the city of New York in 100 years, and the conclusion was unanimous: The city of New York would not exist in 100 years. Why? Because they looked at the curve and said, if the population keeps growing at this rate, to move the population of New York around, they would have needed six million horses, and the manure created by six million horses would be impossible to deal with. They were already drowning in manure. (Laughter) So 1860, they are seeing this dirty technology that is going to choke the life out of New York.

13:29  So what happens? In 40 years’ time, in the year 1900, in the United States of America, there were 1,001car manufacturing companies — 1,001. The idea of finding a different technology had absolutely taken over, and there were tiny, tiny little factories in backwaters. Dearborn, Michigan. Henry Ford.

14:01  However, there is a secret to work with entrepreneurs. First, you have to offer them confidentiality.Otherwise they don’t come and talk to you. Then you have to offer them absolute, dedicated, passionate service to them. And then you have to tell them the truth about entrepreneurship. The smallest company, the biggest company, has to be capable of doing three things beautifully: The product that you want to sell has to be fantastic, you have to have fantastic marketing, and you have to have tremendous financial management. Guess what? We have never met a single human being in the world who can make it, sell it and look after the money. It doesn’t exist. This person has never been born. We’ve done the research, and we have looked at the 100 iconic companies of the world — Carnegie, Westinghouse, Edison, Ford,all the new companies, Google, Yahoo. There’s only one thing that all the successful companies in the world have in common, only one: None were started by one person. Now we teach entrepreneurship to 16-year-olds in Northumberland, and we start the class by giving them the first two pages of Richard Branson’s autobiography, and the task of the 16-year-olds is to underline, in the first two pages of Richard Branson’s autobiography how many times Richard uses the word “I” and how many times he uses the word “we.” Never the word “I,” and the word “we” 32 times. He wasn’t alone when he started.Nobody started a company alone. No one. So we can create the community where we have facilitators who come from a small business background sitting in cafes, in bars, and your dedicated buddies who will do to you, what somebody did for this gentleman who talks about this epic, somebody who will say to you, “What do you need? What can you do? Can you make it? Okay, can you sell it? Can you look after the money?” “Oh, no, I cannot do this.””Would you like me to find you somebody?” We activate communities. We have groups of volunteers supporting the Enterprise Facilitator to help you to find resources and people and we have discovered that the miracle of the intelligence of local people is suchthat you can change the culture and the economy of this community just by capturing the passion, the energy and imagination of your own people.

16:57  Thank you. (Applause)

Thanks to TED Talks


In honor of the 3rd anniversary of the death of Trayvon Martin, I am posting here an essay from Resetting Respect that I wrote shortly after George Zimmerman’s trial.

Trayvon and George

“It’s very dramatic when two people come together to work something out. It’s easy to take a gun and annihilate your opposition, but what is really exciting to me is to see people with differing views come together and finally respect each other.”
Fred Rogers (1928 – 2003), creator and host of the television program, Mister Roger’s Neighborhood, from The World According to Mister Rogers (Hyperion Books, 2003).


The jury in the 2013 Florida trial of George Zimmerman acquitted him of the second-degree murder and manslaughter of Trayvon Martin. After the verdict I heard talk show after talk show, talking head after talking head, and the President of the United States comment on the case, comment on the laws surrounding the case, on the context of the case, and on racial profiling. A lot of what I heard was very thoughtful and elucidating, some of what I heard was myopic and bigoted, a little of what I heard was just plain nonsense.

Trayvon Martin was an unarmed 17-year-old African American walking home at night in his dark-colored hoodie from a nearby convenience store where he had purchased Skittles and an iced tea. He was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, an armed 28-year-old mixed-race Hispanic who was an off-duty neighborhood watch volunteer. We’ll never know exactly what happened that night, but clearly something went terribly amiss.

There was no evidence to suggest that Trayvon Martin was out for a stroll with the intent to do someone or something harm, or to be killed himself. There was also nothing to suggest that George Zimmerman was out that evening looking to kill someone. There was, however, a dead young man, a tragedy for both families.

President Obama explained several possible avenues of action he might direct from the Oval Office that might move the country in a direction away from similar tragedies. I heard many interviews that suggested we need to begin or continue conversations on race and racial profiling. I did and do fully support any efforts that will help us move forward from what is unquestionably a terrible and complex problem. But I think many of us, as is so often the case, wondered what we as individuals could do.

I suggest that every day we each reset our respect habit, so that we value each and every person, thing and idea until they prove unworthy of that respect, with the expectation and belief that respect is contagious and the habit will spread. Think about it. If Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman had encountered each other that night, each assuming the other to be of value as a human being, and consequently had treated each other with the respect that that value requires, I believe to the depths of my soul that the outcome would have been entirely different.




There was an incident partially captured on video between an Oregon Ducks fan and the police at the 2014 Pac Twelve Championship Football Game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, CA, recently. The person who had recorded the incident said that the main subject was attending the game with his son and was going down the wrong aisle, at which time the police became involved. The video was removed from the internet shortly after I viewed it, but as I remember it the man was not cooperating with the police but also was not violent or apparently threatening to the police, who were pushing him, hitting him with some kind of club or night stick until it broke, attempting to use a choke hold on him, and finally getting him to the ground and into some kind of restraining jacket. The small crowd surrounding the altercation was clearly on the man’s side, ultimately chanting something like, “He’s not resisting! He’s not resisting!” What was not captured by the video was how the whole incident had begun, or where.

In light of recent events in the news, grand juries handing down no indictments in the killings of two young black men by white police officers, and the killing by a white policeman of a black 12-year-old brandishing a fake gun, this incident raises further questions about police use of force when dealing with the public. What is different about this situation is that none of those involved was black. The Ducks fan was white, several of the police officers were also white, one may have been Asian and one HIspanic, I couldn’t be sure as I could not see them all clearly.

I don’t know if the Ducks fan had acted threateningly or dangerously when the incident began or had mouthed off to the police.  I don’t know if the police were justified in what appeared to be an unnecessarily rough handling of the situation or not.  I do know that the incident needs to be thoroughly and fairly investigated.

I also do know that the comments that were posted in reaction to viewing the recording of the incident were appalling! There were very clearly 2 camps of viewers: those who can’t stand the police and think that a police state is just around the corner with police brutality in store for us all, and those who think that anyone who doesn’t immediately acquiesce  to the police without asking why they’re being asked to do whatever is a drunken thug. The conversation, if one is willing to call it that, was laced with obscenities on both sides and devolved into heated name-calling and character assassination back and forth among the “conversationalists.”

It was clear to me that without seeing what had initiated the interaction on the video, without seeing what the Ducks fan had initially done, how he had responded to the police, and whether he had appeared menacing or threatening, it was impossible to determine whether the police had justifiably been concerned for their safety and the safety of others at the event, or whether they had truly overreacted and been overly aggressive in their treatment of the Ducks fan. But those commenting on the video didn’t seem to need to know any of that. They already had a strong point of view, applied that point of view to the situation, and then went on to castigate anyone who didn’t agree with them.  They showed an utter lack of respect for the truth of the situation, as well as a lack of respect for anyone who might dare to disagree with them.

This lack of respect for the truth of a situation is as disturbing as it is prevalent, especially on the internet.  It may be due to the anonymity the internet can provide, it may be due to the gaping philosophical and political divide that exists today.  It’s probably due to both. But it’s intellectually lazy. It’s self-absorbed, evidencing no empathy for or interest in further information or any other point of view. And it’s dangerous, because a citizenry that doesn’t seek for and demand the truth can be easily duped by those that would mislead it.


I thoroughly enjoy Joan Morris’s “Animal Life” column in the San Jose Mercury News and her blog at She answers questions and addresses issues about pets and neighborhood wildlife with good humor, good advice, and lots of respect for the many varied critters that make our lives so interesting.

In the November 28, 2014, column, Joan included this wonderful letter from a reader:

DEAR JOAN: I had an eye-opening experience a couple of years ago. I was an employee at a high school in what might be considered a tough part of town.

One day, shortly after school was dismissed, I walked into the quad to see three boys coming out of a science classroom. These boys were probably about 17 years old, but they looked much older. One had a goatee and mustache, and all  had slicked back hair and baggy jeans. The middle boy had his hands cupped in front of him. I thought, “Oh my God, they have something alive.” In a second or two, the boy opened his hands, and a little bird flew away.

I looked at them questioningly, and the middle boy said, “Yeah, this little dude, like, flew into the classroom, and, ya know, he was going to hurt himself, so we had to get him outta there.”

What a lesson this taught me.



I was wandering through Facebook this morning, when I came across a friend’s “share” of a photo that offers some excellent Halloween advice.  It goes like this:

“With Halloween upon us, please keep in mind, a lot of little people will be visiting your home.  Be accepting.  The child who is grabbing more than one piece of candy may have poor fine motor skills.  The child who takes forever to pick out one piece of candy may have motor planning issues.  The child who does not say trick or treat or thank you may be non-verbal.  The child who looks disappointed when they see your bowl might have an allergy.  The child who isn’t wearing a costume at all might have a sensory issue (SPD) or autism.  Be nice.  Be patient.  Its [sic] everyone’s Halloween:)” (

As I see it, it’s all about respect.  We all need to respect those around us, on Halloween and every day, children and adults alike, for who they are.  And we need to support them as they work with whatever issues or baggage they’re dealing with rather than slamming them for not already being perfect.  We’re all works in progress, just at different stages.



When I sent the manuscript for Resetting Respect out to a number of friends and former publishing colleagues for review, a good friend and very smart, compassionate woman responded with, “After reading your last comment about Christy Porter, I thought of Father Greg Boyle qua respectful person of the decade, and thought I’d mention him, if you don’t know who he is.  I do believe that it is perhaps most challenging of all to respect people who are very harshly judged by society, and a harder sell to others to support programs that accord such respect to them.  I think it’s easier to get behind food that’s being wasted and people who are hungry. Am wondering if the book could incorporate/address that point a bit more?”

Yes, I do know who Father Boyle is, and yes, I think this whole conversation about respect needs to address the really tough challenges to living respectfully. Greg Boyle is author of Tattoos on the Heart, Jesuit priest, founder and executive director of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, and human being extraordinaire. I read Tattoos some years ago after hearing “G,” as the homies call him, interviewed on the radio. It’s difficult to come up with the right words to describe the experience of reading Tattoos. The book is poetry, comedy, tragedy, philosophy and scripture. It had me in tears, it had me in stitches, and it inspired me to believe we can all do better, we can all be better, we can all get to the place where we can do the hard work of, as my friend said, respecting people who are very harshly judged by society.

For over 20 years, Gregory Boyle has run Homeboy Industries, a gang-intervention program located in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, the poorest parish in LA and one dominated by gangs. The pages of his book are peopled with tattooed gang members who, casually encountered, would not likely inspire respect. They have attitude, they have anger, they have addictions, and they have weapons and the willingness to use them. They also have self-doubt, and pain, and problems beyond the comprehension of most of us. As Father Greg says, they “carry more burden than they can bear.”

Most of the characters in this book live with a bravado that, when it breaks down, turns into “I…am…a…disgrace,” or “people see me like less.” Matteo and Julian accompanied Father Greg on a speaking trip to Helena, MT, where they received a standing ovation, and then VIP treatment through the airport and onboard the plane back to Los Angeles. Father Greg noticed Matteo crying after reading through a newspaper article on their presentation and asked what was wrong. The tough-looking young man responded, “I don’t know…it really gets to me. Makes me feel like I am somebody.”

Homies Richie and Chepe went on another speaking trip with Father Greg. For the boys first time in a restaurant, they stopped at a Coco’s for dinner, where the glowering hostess led them among tables filled with astonished, silent, staring diners to the most out-of-sight table in the place. The young men were very aware of the “attention” they were receiving, until their waitress approached with warmth and welcome, “Honey”s and “Sweetie”s,  free soda refills and all the Tapatio they needed through the course of the meal. The boys commented as they left the restaurant about how great she had been and how “she treated us like we were somebody.”

Father Greg met Lula at an Easter egg hunt, the 10-year-old standing alone, skinny and filthy, loosing his eggs to poachers. “My name is Luis, but everybody calls me Lula,” he told “G.” A week later, when Father Greg pulled up to an intersection, there was Lula, just entering the crosswalk. Father Greg rolled down his window and shouted his name. You would have thought I had electrocuted him. His whole body spasms with delight to be known, to be called, to hear his name uttered out loud. For his entire trip through the crosswalk, Lula kept turning back and looking at me, smiling.”

All the stories in the book, like the ones about Matteo and Julian, Richie and Chepe, and Lula, are poignant and memorable. They are reminders of the value of each homie, of the humanity of each, of the burdens they carry, and the respect that we owe them. But the story that affected me the most was about Manny, who had survived a drug-addicted father and jail, whose pride and joy was the childcare center at Homeboy Industries he had helped build, who had recently moved away from the neighborhood with his lady who was pregnant with their second child, and who had confessed to Father Greg that he just wanted to be a good father.  As he drove out of the barrio and onto the ramp for the freeway home after having shared the exciting news with Father Greg that he was going to begin college the following Monday, an old rival saw him and opened fire. After several days the family agreed to donate his organs.

As the two nurses wheel Manny to surgery for the harvesting of his organs, one nurse turns to the other and shakes her head in disgust, no doubt eyeing Manny’s tattoos.

‘I mean,’ she says, rolling her eyes, ‘who would want this monster’s heart?’  The other nurse stops the gurney mid-hallway and turns on her coworker with a clarity that may well have surprised herself. ‘How dare you call this kid a monster? Didn’t you see his family, his friends, his son? He was nineteen years old, for God’s sakes. He belonged to somebody. Shame on you.’”

I’ve thought of that heart. What family wouldn’t want that heart that might well save the life of a loved one? And that’s what it comes down to. We all have a human heart that, under similar circumstances, might well save another life. How much more basic can it get? We all have value. We all deserve respect.

Thank you, Father Gregory Boyle, for the work that you do. Thank you for sharing your story, and the stories of so many homies, with us in Tattoos on the Heart. May the rest of us learn from your stories how to get to the place where we can experience empathy, show compassion, and accord respect to everyone and everything, and, maybe most especially, to those whose burdens are too great to bear.