“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou
I love this quote. I believe it is core to what we do as student affairs practitioners: Encourage the heart.
Kouzes and Posner write: “…the desire to accomplish extraordinary things is linked to a basic human need: We all want to be respected for who we are and recognized for the things we do.” Like many of you – I think a lot about what students and colleagues are accomplishing. In fact, one colleague made it a daily ritual to sit down with a cup of coffee first thing in the morning and write five short notes of recognition. That always inspired me!
Today – as I reflect about encouraging the heart, two students come immediately to mind. One interesting aspect of these two students is that I did not have a relationship with either of them. In fact – I have never even met one of the students.
Her name is Carlene. She was a student athlete. I was reading the student newspaper and saw that she accomplished a milestone in her sport. So I wrote a very short note (maybe three sentences) congratulating her and letting her know the University was proud of her accomplishments. To my surprise, I received in return a typed letter which read in part:
“I just wanted to write to you to tell you how much I appreciated your letter to me. It is the greatest feeling to know that all my hard work does not go unnoticed. Your letter was the first I have ever received that has mentioned inspiration… I have been going through some ups and downs and it is just a boost to receive something like this. Trying to balance everything is difficult but getting letters like yours helps keep me on track…”
To this day, I have not met Carlene. But I feel connected to her and thankful that she helped me remember that compassion can be just as powerful and as easily shared with people you don’t know as well as with those with whom we work on a regular basis.
The second student is Tom. Tom was one of the students who had a terrible home life – the kind that if they made a movie about his life it would just be too much to find believable. He found someone at the University that gave him strength – my administrative assistant, Lynn. Lynn shared with me from time to time aspects of his story and most importantly his determination and courage. I respected their relationship and just gave them the space they needed for their friendship. Lynn eventually took a job off campus and I stopped seeing Tom – but I never stopped thinking about him.
Through Lynn’s stories I realized Tom spent a lot of time taking care of people who should be taking care of him. So one day, I sent him a card and $20 and wrote: “This $20 is for you to have fun. Please use it to go to a movie or do something that will bring you joy.” Two years passed and one morning I arrived to my office and found flowers placed next my door. The card read “Tisa, I never forgot what you did for me. I hope you are doing well and these make your day!–Tom”
I never saw Tom again but he reminds how important all members of our campus communities are in supporting students – my administrative assistant was his link. For others it might be the housekeeper in the residence hall or the cashier in the café.
Tom also reminds me to never doubt the impact of our work – sometimes we don’t really know we have made a difference until time has passed and sometimes we never know – but I always have faith in the little things we all do to make a difference.
I keep both notes in my gratuity box.
So I ask:
What is in your gratuity box?
What have you done today to encourage the heart?
And, how has your heart been encouraged?
I end this blog as I began – with a favorite inspiration: “Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.” – Unknown