Life is messy.
I’ve always known this and, most of the time, embraced it. I firmly believe if our lives are too neat and tidy and organized, something is amiss. If we’re not pushing the edges of our boundaries, we’re playing it too safe. I love to be around people who aren’t just being pulled along by their personal community’s expectations of how life should be.
I had the privilege of getting a glimpse into the lives of some of these people as I taught a required communication course at the local community college this past semester. Actually, I taught four Intro to Human Communication classes, all on line. (The whole on line class thing is another blog post altogether!)
Imagine with me for moment. Imagine growing up in an extended family and community where education was not valued. Imagine your neighborhood friends being the kids who thought the most interesting thing about school was how creative they were in skipping class. What if your dad drank and beat your pregnant mom, you barely had food on the table, and doing homework and getting A’s fell way behind on the priority list in your world.
What if one day you met a girl, or a teacher, or some person who saw a light in your eyes, and potential for your life? You decided there was more “out there” than what you had realized. What if you wanted to start taking steps toward making changes in your messy, chaotic, poverty-stricken life? Let’s say one of your first steps, was to go back to school and get an associate’s degree from the local community college.
Of course, this is a fabricated story that represents quite a few of my students this past semester. Granted, there were also those kids from great homes who just wanted to save a few bucks by taking classes before heading off to a four-year institution: Those kids didn’t need any hand-holding. But I worked hard to keep my eye on the goal of reaching the “messy” kids.
What I saw:
Disappeared off the grid for a week or two; no explanation.
My first reaction:
Not a serious student; doesn’t care about his/her school work; not a good work ethic.
What’s really happening:
Hospitalized after car accident; father died; child in the hospital
How I responded after I asked:
If I had made assumptions based on my life experiences and a teacher’s expectations, I wouldn’t have asked and discovered that they just needed some time, a personal touch, and some simple information: They can get an extension on their work due to extenuating circumstances.
As a newly-minted educator but life-long communications person, I’m struck with the enormous lessons—and questions—this has for us as communicators in our non-profits.
- How many times to do we make assumptions about the manners or integrity of our clients because we think they should operate within the social norms we grew up with?
- Do we continue to throw out messages to reach new clients without ever asking if they can suggest a better way to communicate it?
- Do we make decisions on services offered based on what we or our Board thinks, without asking the person being served?
Let’s all strive to keep our eye on the target, and just remember that the target may be different than we originally thought.