Spring in Student Affairs… we all have a definition of what that means. Regardless of your role or institution your calendar is more than likely filled with preparations for banquets, transitions, year-end reports, and summer projects. It is an extremely busy time and if you’re anything like me, sometimes the hectic environment does not stay at the office. Let me explain…
Living in Queens, New York, or mini-Manhattan as some like to refer to it, I have a reverse commute into Long Island where I work at Hofstra University. Honestly, the commute is a welcome change to my 5+ years of living on-campus at the previous institutions for which I’ve worked. Albeit, simply walking home at 10pm after a long night was easier than the 45-minute commute home; but it has been a welcomed separation for me. Although enjoyable however, the commute doesn’t come without frustration.
If any of you have ever braved the NYC highways (or any congested city thruway at rush hour), you can imagine how the combination of aggressive drivers and congested traffic can add to the chaotic cloud that develops above us this time of year. I’ve gotten used to the constant stop and go that I experience for about half of my commute, and have begun to laugh at how unlikely my luck has been when my lane speeds up right at the moment where I decide to switch into the lane that appears to be going faster! (This never fails). However, it’s the attitude and aggression of other drivers that brings me anxiety. I wonder is it a New York quality to cut in front of other drivers in bumper-to-bumper traffic, or even worse when you are trying to merge onto a highway? Or is it a New York thing to let it bother you?
While driving to work the other day, I had a car swerve into my lane almost side swiping me. The driver of the car beeped, sped up and cut me off as I was merging onto the Grand Central Parkway at rush hour. Relieved that we were ok, I found myself beeping at the car at which point the man stuck his arm out his window and waved at me, a gesture that infuriated me, assuming that it was some way of disregarding my reaction and telling me to relax. I just shook my head in disbelief at the recklessness of the man driving.
When traffic stopped for a second, the man actually opened his door…
Immediately out of instinct, I locked my doors – with a million ideas flowing through my mind of what he could do. It turns out I couldn’t have been more wrong with my assumptions. The man got out of his vehicle, put his hand over his heart and mouthed, “I’m so sorry! I’m sorry.” My look of fury immediately turned to remorse as I smiled at the man and found myself nodding in a gesture to imply, “No worries, have a good day.” He then put his hands together in a thankful gesture, and got back in his car and continued on his way.
This stuck with me for the rest of my day… Why do we always jump to the negative? Why do we tend to see the bad and reckless in others before we notice the honesty and remorse for a mistake? We assume that when something happens, it had to be intentional, or they had to be inconsiderate. Think about walking in a crowded place and having someone bump into you without apologizing. The natural response may be a roll of the eyes or a frustrated response, but how often do we put ourselves in that person’s shoes? We teach it to our students all the time. Mediate conflict by first learning where the other person is coming from. Own when you make a mistake. Be the bigger person. However, when we’re beyond the pearly gates of a community of higher learning, and we’re just one of the crowd in a busy city or a congested community, do we practice what we preach or do we automatically assume the worst in people’s intentions?
This man, who could have caused an accident but was big enough to apologize rather than disregard, taught me something that day. He taught me that sometimes, we look for the bad in people because we’re too hurried and frustrated to imagine the good and acknowledge a mistake. What if he had a pregnant wife in the car and he was racing to get to the hospital? I had visions of him getting out of the car to curse me out and scream incessantly at me for beeping at him to the point where I felt the need to lock my doors for safety! When all along this man had intentions of simply ensuring that I knew he was sorry. He didn’t wave out the window to taunt me, but rather to express sympathy to me. Can we not equate this to so much more?
There are opportunities every day to assume the negative and overlook mistakes for mal-intentions. There are also opportunities every day to apologize for honest mistakes, and even be the person willing to offer forgiveness. Mistakes and misunderstandings usually involve more than one person. So do resolutions and closure. We’re all going fast through this time of the year, but when was the last time you slowed down for long enough to look around and wonder about the day someone else was having?
Connect with me: @rkaplan13
Robyn Kaplan, Associate Director for Student Leadership & Activities, Hofstra University.