Intercultural Responsiveness
A Blog By Tom Altepeter

First Words

First Things FirstOccasionally, people cry in my office.

Now, I’m used to this, primarily because of the role I have in my workplace. I also think it’s important to point out that people don’t cry because of me … well … they usually don’t cry because of me. Young people, experienced people, me people, and all people in between happen to cry – every once in a while – in my office.

I’ve never encountered a person who isn’t experiencing some difficulty in their life, I’ve never engaged with someone who is proud of something they’ve done wrong, and I’ve never interacted with one who doesn’t need to share what’s on their mind and in their heart. Sure, maybe they hide it, and perhaps they deny it, but it’s always there.

This is where, I suppose, we meet people on a day to day basis. We meet them somewhere along their journey, and if we happen to be in a position like I have, we have a tremendous opportunity to truly make a positive difference. I don’t take being a school administrator lightly, just as I’m certain other educators don’t take their job lightly, just as I’m certain other people in other service oriented professions don’t take their job lightly.

I do mess up though. And, I’m sure I’m not alone.

Sometimes, the first thing we think we should be addressing with someone who’s sitting in front of us is whatever the issue is at hand. With young people, it’s often, “What were you thinking … Why did you do this … How do you think this made the other person feel?” And, with adults, it’s frequently, “Tell me why you’re upset … Explain what it is that you need to make this right … What can we do to fix this?”

I don’t know about you, but when I’ve made a mistake, or when I’m hurting, or when I’m upset about something, I don’t need to be scolded. I also don’t need to be reminded or interrogated. Furthermore, I’m not interested in defending or explaining or being told what I need to do differently – or even necessarily what is or isn’t going to happen to help me. I know what I need, and it’s simply to be asked …

“How are you?”

I need to know it’s truly genuine. I need to know you’ll actually listen.

We’ll get to the other stuff. We always do. But, just for now, please just ask about me.

It matters.

One Response to “First Words”

  • Barry says:

    In our effort to “fix” things, we sometimes lose sight of the individual. We can’t let time become the issue, instead, we must let our focus remain on the individual in front of us. I agree that asking that simple question, “How are you.” will allow us to be present, and not in such a hurry to fix things. Thank you.


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