People this past week have been writing about kindness, and the opportunity to be vulnerable, as it relates to their work in teaching and learning. Ann Riley wrote about noticing the connection between kindness and vulnerability and challenged us to be the first make eye contact and to say hello as we walk around campus. That’s a challenge I issued to myself at the start of the semester this year.
Often when I smile and say hello to someone I don’t know, I am ignored. And that’s ok. It doesn’t feel great, but I know that I tried and will try again.
Just as often, I receive a silent smile back, or maybe a returned “hello” or “good morning.” That’s nice and makes me smile.
But I feel like the real opportunities are when I see something I can do. When I ask someone with a confused expression if I can help, and I end up spending five minutes walking them to the right building and finding out someone’s name or what they’re here to study. Or when I open a door for someone loaded down with books, and see that they look surprised and grateful.
A lot of students tend to open doors for me, and I always express my gratitude. But I am really enjoying when I find a true opportunity to be on a stranger’s side. I feel like I have to be very observant and alert in order to make it happen.
So far this semester, instead of just helping students find the room they say they’re looking for, I’ve made sure several of them know how to search the GCC website to find their teachers’ office location and office hours. I taught one student how to read the campus map. I helped a Muslim woman locate a few private options for one of her daily prayers. I made time to get to know an older gentleman who I see regularly on campus.
I’m feeling that so much of the time, it’s easy to focus on my own immediate goal, where I’m going, what I need to do next. But it’s so much more rewarding to observe the people in close proximity and look for opportunities to be on their side for a few minutes. And this is a daily choice. Whether I’ll be on my side only, or let go of what I need at a certain moment to make sure I’m on their side when they could use a hand. Focusing only on myself makes me feel like a drone. Being on their side makes me feel like a human being.