Tell Me About It
by Sydné Marrow, Director of the Center for Multicultural Affairs
Top 5: Developer, Empathy, Strategic, Responsibility, Context
Nosy, you say? No, I call it inquisitive. As a young child I was always surrounded by adults. In order for me to make sense of my world I pursued all aspects of the “who, why and what.” Not only did it make information more memorable, it helped things make sense. Adult conversation and adult circumstances made up my world for as far back as I can remember. More than likely, I overheard and witnessed things that may not have been appropriate but were impressionable. I learned to read by the time I was three, and even then I was dissatisfied because I lacked comprehension. All of these things served to foster my need to “know everything.”
Most would say that an adolescent who constantly asked her mother, “why” was just being stubborn. Or that the middle-school student who haunted her Geometry teacher with, “why is it Given?” was trying to get out of work, but for me this was not the case at all. I genuinely needed to know as much information as possible so that I could store it in its right place to recall when necessary and use it appropriately when the time was right.
My father was the best story teller ever. He would spin a yarn that began with the entire backstory straight through to the climax. To label him long-winded was a kind descriptor. Now when I have an audience I constantly remind myself of whether or not they really want to hear all that I am sharing, or should I just get to the point. Sometimes it works, sometimes not so much. I have to try really hard to make it short and sweet. My desire to be memorable and helpful when called upon supersedes my capacity to just share the basics. Often, I feel that I bore folks with the details. Perhaps they think I just like to hear my own voice. Students, more than likely, get thoroughly annoyed as they want the quick and dirty, and with lightning speed. With my students, I may sometimes overshoot my goal of making a point and find them looking through me as if to say, “Alright, already Lady…!” Best example, my pet peeve is the phrase: “Because I said so!” Not a reasonable response, ever! As a parent, I tried diligently to never use it in response to my children. I found it to be lazy and lacking in support of their efforts. That goes as well for the students whom I am entrusted to care for daily.
My ability to successfully handle a situation, coordinate an event, or take on a task is in direct correlation with how much information (read history) I have at my disposal. Working with students over the years I have learned that it is important to know as much about them as possible. It differs student to student, colleague to colleague, and for the most part I usually am able to gain the confidence of others. I find that opening up to them first is a great start. Sharing my history or passion around a situation creates a bond that is strengthened by equity. Never assume that a person will open up first, especially when you are initiating the interaction. Even in the case where you may not be the initiator, instinctively the other person wants to test the waters before they jump right in. When advising students I tend to ask about their life before college, including their cultural background and familial experiences to some extent. Unless it feels really uncomfortable, I will ask those probing questions to help me set guidelines that will hopefully benefit the direction, and ultimately the outcome, of the conversation. When coordinating traditional events, I like to know what happened in prior years. Why were things handled in the manner in which they were handled; did or did it not benefit the community, and in what ways?
Context addresses the need to understand the past in order to dictate the success of the future. It fuels my confidence amidst the confusion of things for which I may be unaware. “Once you make the commitment, the universe conspires to assist you.” I live by this notion. The first half of the statement is the key and context falls under its realm. To commit to a notion, a person, or a task I need all of the intricate details. I want to be aware of the history to better insure that the future has a brighter result.
I cannot afford to assume that the given is guaranteed, and so it begs the question. And perhaps more than just one.