In honor or Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, 2017, I am posting this excerpt from Resetting Respect. Respect was a key factor in all their lives.


 Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” Nelson Mandela (1918 – 2013), South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, politician, and first black president of South Africa.

The other evening I watched Invictus, Clint Eastwood’s 2009 movie in which Morgan Freeman plays Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first black president, who was elected to that position in 1994. Previously Mandela had spent 27 years as a political prisoner for opposing South Africa’s white minority government and it’s policy of apartheid.  

I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, and was very impressed by Freeman’s portrayal of Mandela. I was struck by the self-respect that Freeman’s Mandela exuded, a self-respect that allowed him to interact comfortably with blacks and whites alike, a self-respect that allowed him to be a comfortable man among the people as well as a strong authority figure. I wondered if this was Freeman’s idea of Mandela, or whether the real Mandela conveyed that same self-respect and comfort with himself. So I Googled and YouTubed “Mandela,” and sure enough. The video clips of him over the years showed a man comfortable with himself and with others, a man with considerable self-respect and pride as well as respect for all those around him.

As I was reading about Nelson Mandela, the names Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., came up repeatedly. I searched for film clips of Gandhi and King, and they, too, each exhibited a similar presence, a similar sense of self-respect.

As I browsed from site to site, I was struck by several similarities in the lives of these great men. All three were key leaders of civil rights movements in their respective countries. All three were advocates of nonviolent civil disobedience as the best way for their people to obtain civil rights and freedom. All three were nominated for or awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. And all three are among the most respected and revered leaders of the 20th Century.

I was curious about how these three men came to be the men they were, with their similar beliefs and strengths and self-respect, and whether there were similarities in their early lives that had influenced who they became. I spent some more time researching Gandhi, Mandela, and King, Jr., and found a pattern that ran among the early lives of all three. They were born into middle-class families that emphasized religion and morality. They were raised with a sense of self-worth and pride. As young men they all experienced affronts to their dignity. And then, throughout their lives, they worked tirelessly for and won respect and civil rights for their people.  

There were many takeaways for me from my brief immersion in and study of these three impressive lives. Respect begets respect. A healthy self-respect leads to valuing and hence respect for others. An early environment of respect, self-worth, and morality can lead to a lifelong attitude and style. A respectful approach to people and problems can change the world!

Worried about the post-election holidays ahead?


RESETTING RESPECT to the rescue!

Here’s some ‘how-to’ advice for keeping joy in the season and maybe even peace on earth — as well as at home, work, and holiday parties!

LISTEN to others.

REALIZE it’s not really about you personally.

ACCEPT that you may not, probably will not, agree on everything.

ASK questions about their lives.

REFRAIN from name-calling and personal attacks.  It only puts everyone in defense mode.

OFFER advice only when asked.

AVOID CRITICIZING others even when they are being critical.

GIVE THEM TIME to say what they want to say. Don’t interrupt.

APOLOGIZE when you have done or said something hurtful.

BE THERE for them. Show up. Lend an ear, a laugh, a diversion. Be a helper and a healer.

Debora Wohlford Steininger is the author of Resetting Respect:  The Attitude Adjustment That Just Might Lower Your Stress Level and Save the World!  The book contains great stories and lots of PRACTICAL advice, excerpts of which can be viewed at

This easy and fun read just may be the perfect holiday guide, stocking stuffer, and New Year’s resolution prompt this year.   Available in paperback and Ebook versions from Amazon Digital Services, Inc.  All December proceeds will be donated by the author to Habitat for Humanity.


OK, folks.  As you may have noticed, Resetting Respect has been quiet for the last year or so.  Brain freeze.  What’s been going on in the political arena and its ringside has been so appalling that I haven’t known where to begin.  

However, the times are acrimonious.  The discussions are heated and hurtful.  The actions of some are unconscionable.  And my conscience has been taking a blowtorch to my brain freeze and suggesting I get over it, get on with it, and get the word out. So….

Resetting Respect, the book, is about respecting everyone and everything (including all the voters, their attendant camps and campers) for the value that each and every human has.  According that respect need not infringe on anyone’s rights and privileges because that’s where self-respect comes in.  Self-respect means that we each require from others the respect for the value in us that we offer to them.  

If we are to reset the respect in our society, we need to do it with actions, with the way we treat other people, with the way we talk with other people.  We desperately need to have  conversations about difficult topics.  And we need those conservations to be had respectfully, empathetically, carefully, and looking toward the future, not the past.  The conversations need to be had among families, friends, relatives, the choir, the other’s choir, the neighborhood, and the random encounters that so often color our daily lives.

Just as the philosophy underlying Resetting Respect can guide the way, I also believe the stories and “How to Respect …” lists in the book can help by priming the pump, so to speak.  By showing just how easily and frequently we can demonstrate respect simply by smiling, by listening, by checking our impulse to respond angrily to perceived thoughtlessness.  Resetting Respect suggests many ways to restore us to civil society — immediately!  

And by the way, Resetting Respect isn’t just for children.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people respond to my description of the book by saying, “Oh, every child should read that!”  Well, I think the actions we’ve seen, the words we’ve heard, and the comments we’ve read recently (and sometimes committed ourselves!) are proof that respect is lacking across all ages and strata of our American society right now.  We all need a refresher course!

So if you’re dreading the next big family dinner or office party because of the heated conversations you fear may erupt, if you’re avoiding certain people on your daily circuit, if you’ve unfriended old friends on Facebook, I suggest you order a copy of Resetting Respect right away for some practical ideas about dealing with those people and situations.  And, in the hope of changing the tones of our public and private worlds, I  suggest you make Resetting Respect a stocking stuffer or a New Year’s present for everyone you know.  What might be a better New Year’s resolution for anyone than to reset their respect attitude?

I’m not looking for royalties.  I will happily donate all income from any December sales of paperback or Ebook versions of Resetting Respect (both available from Amazon Digital Services, Inc.) to Habitat for Humanity.  I just want to get the word out that there’s a different way of looking at the world, there’s a different way of interacting with the world, and each and every one of us can move our world forward in a positive, respectful way.

Merry Christmas!

Happy New Year!

Happy Kwanzaa!   

Happy Hanukkah!

Happy Diwali!

Happy Holidays!


Debora Wohlford Steininger



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!


What if the protagonist had treated everything he encountered with respect — had acknowledged that everything he met had value, whether he understood what the value was or not, and so deserved to be acknowledged and cared for?

MAN: a thought provoking animation about our impact on the world

Posted by David Wolfe on Wednesday, April 15, 2015


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!




In his address to the Congress of the United States on September 24, 2015, Pope Francis expressed great respect for the American people in the way he discussed what he values about us.  That was especially clear as he described how Abraham Lincoln fought for liberty, Martin Luther King, Jr., struggled for equal rights for all, Dorothy Day worked for social justice for everyone, and Thomas Merton promoted discussion and peace between peoples and religions.  But then, as Pope Francis elaborated on the efforts and ideas of those four representative Americans, he challenged the Congress, and he challenged each and every American, to live up to those role models, to apply what we can learn from their examples to the many crises facing our world today:  poverty and income inequality; immigration; heightened racial and religious tensions;  global warming. He acknowledged our value, and then challenged us to live up to that inherent value, to the beliefs that we hold.  And he told us he was confident we could do it.  Then, from the porch of the United States Capitol, he asked for the prayers and well-wishes of the thousands before him, an acknowledgment of the value of each person in the throng. What a wonderful and, I hope and suspect, effective example of respect Pope Francis has given us.