Our modern media culture likes to “label” successful people: The richest person, the prettiest person, the person of the year, and etc. And because our culture is so influenced by the images we see on screen and the stories we read in magazines, we sometimes forget that some of our greatest heroes are the people living just next door.
The ability to recognize the greatness of one’s neighbors and coworkers begins by first being aware and conscious of one’s interactions, and appreciating the things we learn from them. In the sixth chapter of Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers, it is stated: “One who learns from his fellow a single chapter, or a single law, or a single verse, or a single word, or even a single letter, must treat him with respect” (6:3).
While this verse is specifically referring to learning Torah (or, in the case of a single letter, language with which to study Torah), it is a concept that is easily transferable to the acquisition of all types of knowledge. An earlier Mishna in Pirkei Avot praises a person who learns from all people: “Ben Zoma said: Who is wise? He who learns from everyone” (4:1) Because gaining knowledge is what makes a person wise, one must treat with respect all people from whom one acquires knowledge, no matter how simple it may seem.