One of my favorite celebrity personalities of all time, Rodney Dangerfield, performed basically the same facetious routine every time he appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Cracking slapstick jokes about spiritless marriage, lackluster sex life, and poor health, Rodney knew exactly how to articulate why his life wasn’t going so hot: “Johnny, I get no respect at all!” Of course, the act was all fun and games, and millions of people loved his jokes, but behind every chewy statement there was usually a wad of truth. Somewhere, somehow there was someone who wasn’t giving him the respect he felt he deserved. And Rodney knew many people shared his feelings.

I feel like I deserve some more respect, too. Just the other day, a distribution center receiver gave me quite the hard time for arriving later than expected. Despite that I had driven there at as fast a rate as legally possible without having eaten or taken a very much needed stop of a certain “personal” nature, he railed me for not arriving earlier in the day. Even more, he expected me to do most of his work during the unloading process, and he nearly ruined our brand new trailer by running his heavy forklift at a breakneck speed over the dock plate. When finished, he didn’t wait for me to present the paperwork to him. Instead, he rummaged through my portfolio (yes, I still keep my paperwork organized in a leather portfolio, a vestige of my oh-so-corporate days) and found the paperwork himself. In the end, he didn’t even sign the bills correctly. I was simply left to clean up his mess and ignominiously walk out of the facility. And as I left, I caught him wearing a proud smile, joking with his co-workers about my “lousy” job. Tears for Fears got it right: everybody does want to rule the world. And some lousy job it was, indeed! It didn’t even occur to him that I had actually arrived 15 minutes early to the appointment that he, yes he, arranged. Ahhhhh, Johnny, I get absolutely no respect at all!

Rant over. This experience is rare for me, but it’s the usual for most truckers. Most truckers work in low-margin industries such as grocery, auto, or other dry goods, and those industries don’t make enough profit to command educated and refined workers along the entire length of the supply chain. But that’s not the only issue. In fact, it’s that our working world places too much value on multi-faceted, multi-action, knowledge-heavy jobs. Truckers and dock workers do too simple of work to merit refined, sophisticated work practices and cultures; at least, that is how the big corporations see it. So little time is spent on developing work environments, and truckers get the last kick-in-the-rear from the operational ripples.

Working in the pharmaceutical industry, I deal with more highly educated personnel and inordinately more regulated operations than other truckers. The usual for me entails a stronger importance placed on customer experience, product security, and operational excellence. We take more time than most truckers to ensure that product damages are avoided, we carry larger insurance coverage, we use newer and better equipment, and we have more robust operational practices. We also make a lot more money, too; so much so, that our average wage outweighs the average American by nearly two times. The gist is that pharma truckers have a much better gig than virtually all other drivers. Still, we get little more respect from basically everybody. Our lack of respect then must not have much to do with the kind of money we make or the comparable prestige of our job.

Respect is really a tough concept to define, since it comes in many shapes and sizes. Some people feel like they deserve respect based on their particular brand of religious philosophy or some long credentialed history of work or personal life successes. Others feel like they deserve respect because of moral discretion or the ability to meet the expectations of others. Yet others find respect to be completely irrelevant, dismissing it and thinking it has no relation to things like “care” or “concern.” As complex a term both on paper and in practice, these notions of respect only begin to outline functional definitions, not even structural, a priori definitions of the word. Merriam-Webster defines respect as holding something or someone in “high or special regard.” Clearly, regardless of your language philosophy, truckers are not held in very high nor special regard. And if that has anything to do with a proper definition of respect, truckers ain’t got it.

And while our world continues to struggle to understand the concept of respect in meaningful, consistent ways, truckers know it means something to them. Most, if not all, truckers feel a complete lack of respect from others. Team Run Smart (TRS), a sponsored web platform that provides truckers general industry and operating advice, reported one of Overdrive Magazine’s poll results showing that a lack of respect is one of the worst parts of a trucker’s job. In response, TRS suggested 5 ways to show greater respect to drivers, which included a greater appreciation for truckers’ time, higher pay, and honesty. And it’s true, being in the industry, I can confirm that truckers are generally under-appreciated, underpaid, and frequently lied to by various entities.

Where does this incredible lack of respect come from? Surely, institutional factors aren’t the only things that lead to a lack of respect for drivers. One web forum determined that respect from others begins with yourself, requiring a higher standard of dress and professionalism, attention to detail, and customer concern. There’s definitely some truth to this. I experience completely different treatment at receivers and truck stops simply by tucking in my shirt and wearing a matching belt to my boots. Top on the Stetson cowboy hat, people open doors for me like you wouldn’t believe. And I don’t think it’s out of some anti-gunslinger fear. People in all industries feel respected when others take the time to respect themselves and the way they look and present themselves. Truckers would certainly do well to improve their overall appearance.

And now, we’ve successfully identified an exemplary chicken-or-egg argument. Either truckers get no respect because of the ways they act and present themselves or truckers get no respect because society and its denigrating systems of control put the trucker at a complete loss. Which one’s culpable in The Case of the Missing Respect? Everyone else? Or truckers themselves? Well, both actually.

At least three kinds of respect issues plague the trucker and contribute to the low quality of life they experience on a daily basis:

Lack of respect by everyday Americans for truckers. Remember my first post? Truckers feel like “throwaway people.” That collective feeling stems from various stigmas that everyday folks impose upon truckers, which includes thinking them inferior intellectually, physically, politically, morally, and economically. Somehow, others need to see truckers as equals.

Lack of respect by truckers for their own jobs. Truckers need to collectively dress and act professionally, taking care of their customers and equipment to a high standard of excellence. It’s hard for others to respect people who don’t respect themselves or the work they do, just ask this PhD.

Truckers’ lack of self-respect. Since it’s hard to respect others when they don’t respect themselves, this one almost goes without saying. But the fact remains, truckers need to see themselves as important to the American way of life. They need to see their everyday lives as contributions to the greater good, thereby seeing themselves as good people doing good things for others.

And truckers absolutely do need respect from others to continue to do good and better work. The Schuitema Human Excellence Group wrote, “If we are very deliberate about developing deep respectful relationships in our professional lives, what we are in effect doing is cultivating alliances which can act as a launch pad to maximize our own potential and the potential of the groups we are part of. We will all begin to view each other as valuable and will start adding value to each others lives.” A significant growth in at least these three areas of respect is crucial to ensuring that truckers continue to help everyday Americans. Besides, and we know this, who wants to work when literally no one respects what you do or how you do it? If that attitude grew, we’d all be in for quite a ride.

Inevitably, it will take more than a few well-articulated stories and psychological data points to convince an entire political society that broad, systemic changes must be made. So tune in next week for the second edition, 4 Issues Truckers Face: No Community.

Keep on preppy truckin’.


Image Credit: Andre Hunter

T.C. Dankers

T.C. Dankers

Sociologist, management consultant, entrepreneur, and blogger, Tom is the original “preppy trucker.” He sees things differently. Living the odd double life of both trucker and social theorist, he offers a unique perspective on a wide range of American business, culture, and social justice issues.

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