People often make assumptions and judgments about others, but with very little information, usually based on our beliefs and past experiences.
I remember very clearly an incident when a student fell asleep in my class. It was not the first time. This was a fairly regular occurrence and it wasn’t because my class was boring! And although she kept up with the work, I was concerned and more than a bit annoyed that my efforts to teach her were not being appreciated.
I thought that from the look of her – she was probably out partying all weekend to all hours, drinking & carrying on. I asked other teachers if they had concerns as well which they did. So I called her aside after class one day and questioned her.
The situation was nothing like I expected. Her mum was a single mum, a night shift worker who worked nearly every day of the week and was nearly never home when the kids were up – “the kids” being her, a 16 year old, and her 6 year old sister. She was completely responsible for the young one – getting ready for school, breakfast, lunch, picking up from school, helping with her school work, cooking dinner (for the whole family), bathing, feeding, reading bedtime stories – and all before she could look at her own school work which she did until the early hours of the morning before she slept and then got up to start a new day.
And as for partying on weekends? Well…she didn’t, since she had to look after her little sister, help with shopping, the laundry & cleaning the house etc while her mum caught up on sleep on the one day off she had. She wasn’t resentful of the additional family responsibilities and loved her little sister to bits. She was doing her best to juggle her own schooling as well as helping her family.
I felt ashamed that I had judged her so harshly and mainly, because of how she looked. I appreciated her honesty and trust telling me when confronted about the situation and her discretion in not just blabbing about it to anyone and everyone. In fact, I came to admire that girl and appreciate her efforts since I knew that I would not have been able to deal with that when I was 16.
- Be wary of making assumptions. Instead be curious – what was it like in their world? How can I be more understanding and empathic and less critical and judgmental? Maybe, like the iceberg, there is more to what you are seeing or hearing.
- You have to have trust and respect in relationships to have effective communication. Open and honest communication will allow people to approach you with their issues rather than whisper about them behind closed doors. Positive trusting relationships are more forgiving of mistakes, where poor relationships may misinterpret something good as negative.
- Understandably when we are communicating to others, we may take some things for granted. Things to us that may be simple and straight forward, may not be for the other person. This happens especially if there are cultural differences. But even experiential differences can cause misunderstanding (like with my student).
- Make time to form good relationships with others. Yes, it can be time consuming but in the long run it helps to create a strong sense of camaraderie.
And in case, anyone was wondering – the girl – we compromised on the sleeping thing (we gave her a space in student services for short times and we got her mum involved) – she graduated with high results & went on to university to become a sound engineer.