During college, a fellow student once told me a story about one of his first days of class. His professor walked in that morning, and his first words to the students were, “You are all ugly.” There were a few gasps, and a lot of confused faces. He continued on to say, “You are all ugly because I don’t know you yet. It happens each semester. By showing me who you are throughout this class, in your uniqueness and diversity, I might change my opinion by the end.” Sure enough, the professor walked into the classroom on the last day of class and scanned the room. He smiled a little and said, “What a lovely looking bunch of people.”
Ok, so our uniforms really are ugly. They were issued this week, complete with gray shirts with the Americorps emblem, and khaki cargo pants that are higher waisted than your grandmother’s. I must say, they are very attractive, making even the curviest woman look androgynous. While the uniforms made us all look the same, it was this week that we started to differ. The surface level knowledge of my team members’ story cracked, exposing both the beautiful and the harsh of our personalities, backgrounds, and aspirations. This week, we became whole people.
It takes time for preconceptions to melt, for us to let our guard down, and to let others see the person beyond the face in front of them. In our first weeks here, we have been challenged to peer deeper. We did a training this week called Hands of Peace, focused on active listening and communication. It was one of those trainings that exemplifies the saying, “You only get out of it what you put in.” We had the chance to pour out our own stories if we trusted in the fact that someone would listen and take them seriously.
We did a series of activities where we would have 2 minutes of uninterrupted time to talk to a partner. The other person was not allowed to say anything during this time, and it was only through non-verbal cues that they could respond. There was one span of 2 minutes that we could only fill with positive things about ourselves. There couldn’t be any qualifiers – no buts. For example, I couldn’t say, “I think I’m a good runner, but I’m not as fast as a lot of people.” I found that there was more trust in this activity than in any of the other trainings we’ve done. I hold humility close to my heart, finding it to be one of the most important traits a person can hold. I had to trust my partner not to judge me for the things I held as important, that I wasn’t bragging, and that I could trust enough to let my guard down; all the while, he had to trust that I was being honest. It is in situations such as these you can read people the best – they must consciously decide to be vulnerable. Walls came down, and I came out of it knowing much more about the people around me, finding out deeper things besides their favorite color or number of pets. We are becoming whole people.
Upon first meeting new people, I believe we are all caricatures of ourselves. Seeing things like compassion or loyalty in an individual takes time to expose. A shallow understanding is the first definition of these people. For example, I know his name is John and he is from Virgina. There is no fault in this, as I said, discovering truths takes time. Sharing a majority of my time with Green 6 in trainings and leisure time has sped up the process. I am beginning to see tics, the way a teammate kneads hands while talking, or seconds taken to gather thoughts before speaking. It’s in the way they ask those questions that aren’t prompted, or their reaction when I do, that I am seeing their truths. With their permission or not, I am finding out about my team through their sincere gestures – positive or otherwise.
It’s also the point in time where we begin to see each others’ faults and flaws. Perfection is no longer an option in opinion. This is a good thing. The longer someone believes you are perfect, the more they will be let down to know that you are not. Seeing someone as a whole person, mistakes and all, helps us to understand them, to be empathetic to their situation, and to interact in a more genuine and effective way. If there is anything I have learned thus far in my life, it is that we may not be perfect, but that does not make us less of a person. We are all beautifully and wonderfully made.
But, it’s not just in the unconscious ways of communication we define each other. Most thoroughly it is through genuine responses and honest conversation – those questions that go beyond where you’re from and what your major was. We are becoming more and more unafraid to seek those answers because we are beginning to truly care for one another. It’s a beautiful thing to watch progress, but sometimes it’s frightening as well. It’s scary to delve into others’ lives, knowing that I now hold the trust of that person, knowing that they too have to hold up their end of the bargain. Friendship is forming that delicate bond – carefully stepping, and sometimes mis-stepping.
Each team was asked to make a charter that would serve as their guidelines for their months of service. Like any friends should, we will be holding each other accountable to these things. Like any person, there will be times we will fail. Like any family, we will pick each other up when we do.
2. Clean Communication
3. Be Flexible
5. No Judgement
6. Work as aTeam
7. Include Everyone
8. Ask for Help
10. Have Fun
We are full of joy and love and faults and insecurities and life. We are whole people.