What Gross Towel Usage Taught Me About Self-Respect

This is a story about a law student, a partner at a firm, and gross towel usage. Brace yourself. Here we go.

There’s a lot of pressure that comes with being a law student who’s hired to work as a “summer associate” at a law firm. You try to do everything you can to impress the partners. After all, those partners are the ones paying you wads of cash to come audition for them.

If you impress them, they might hire you to come to their firm after law school and thereafter pay you gobs more money to stick around for a few years. So nobody wants to make a bad impression – especially not with a partner.

That’s why I’ve never forgotten a fellow law student, whom I will call Keith.

We were both working as summer associates at a medium-sized law firm, and we had been invited by some of the attorneys to go on a golf outing. Somewhere around the ninth hole, there was an unexpected downpour, but Keith had planned ahead – he had a towel with him.

After the rain stopped, he got his towel off of the golf cart and begin drying off.

“You mind if I use that towel?” asked one of the partners.

“Sure, go ahead,” said Keith.

That’s when it happened.

Yes, He Did

The partner began aggressively drying off his hair with the towel, and then he started using it all over the rest of his body. Under his arms, on his bare legs, on his neck. And then finally, in a bizarre twist, he took the towel and began drying his groin with it. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, but what could anyone do? He was a partner.

Well, Keith did something.

“Hey man – I would appreciate you not using my towel to dry off like that,” he said.

The partner seemed surprised. I was too. Partners aren’t used to having anyone tell them what to do – much less a summer associate. The partner handed the towel back to Keith, and I took a deep breath, realizing I may have just witnessed the end of Keith’s chances of getting hired at that firm. But whatever Keith may have lost that day, he gained my respect.

Hold Onto Your Towel

Most of us have people whom we let cross boundaries in unhealthy ways. We keep silent when they disrespect us; we laugh at inappropriate jokes; and we look away when they cross lines they shouldn’t.

Maybe it happens with your supervisor who constantly tells you how attractive you are. Or perhaps it happens with your parent or older sibling who still treats you like you’re 12 years old. Or it might happen with the so-called friend who will judge you and gossip about you if you get on her bad side.

The reason we put up with these folks is because we are afraid of them. We are afraid of what they can take from us. We are terrified of the harm that their disdain will bring. It might mean retaliation, isolation, or material loss.

But when we tolerate disrespectful people out of fear, we’re disrespecting ourselves, and that’s ungodly. Jesus says we’re to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:28-31). Hello, folks – that command requires us to love ourselves as well, and it’s not very loving to stay in unhealthy relationships. Moreover, it’s not very loving to our neighbor to teach them that it’s OK for them to be disrespectful to others. No doubt, Jesus told us to turn the other cheek and forgive (Matthew 5:39, Matthew 18:21-22); but He didn’t tell us to go around looking for opportunities to get slapped on a regular basis.

It’s high time some of us get our towels back and deal with whatever consequences follow. We may lose a friend, a job, or a family relationship as a result, but it’s better than losing our self-respect.

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