Acknowledging Who I Am & Not Just What I do

Me, on a recent trip to Seattle, in a boba shop where I didn’t get boba (but I did get tea!)

I want to talk some more about humanizing interactions.

Yesterday, after a pretty horrible Monday and Tuesday, I had an amazing Wednesday.  I had tea, pastries & dim sum with a dear friend who is chosen family; had an incredible impromptu “office hours” conversation with a colleague who is leading another part of a grant that I’m working on about (among other things) being Asian American, mentoring and striving for social justice while maintaining self-preservation; had a scheduled conversation with some cross-campus colleagues about how to better align our work for teacher candidates; and then had an amazing happy hour/ early dinner with a new friend, who already feels like family, about personal identity and institutional oppression.

These conversations were life-giving, because they acknowledged the best parts of who I am.  In these conversations, I felt respected, heard, valued and that I could both contribute and be contributed to. In most of these interactions, I felt deep love and personal connection to the people with whom I was talking, and in all of them, I felt shared commitment.

These were humanizing interactions.

I think it helped that they were in person, face-to-face.  I find it harder to dehumanize someone when you’re in conversation with them (i.e. talking with, not at them).  As my friend Min reminded me (I think? She has a lot of wisdom so I’m going to attribute this to her), it is our biology to seek belonging and connection with one another.  But, I also think that it was refreshing that these conversations weren’t solely, or even primarily, task-oriented and focused on meeting a goal.

Don’t get me wrong. I am often goal-driven and task-oriented, and I think that we need goal-driven, task-oriented, productive work meetings to move forward on many projects.  I/We get the job done that way (hey, I am the daughter of immigrants).  And I don’t do these tasks, participate in these meetings, or get things done because I want any particular recognition or accolades.  I don’t do them (anymore) to prove my self-worth.  I do them because they help to enact my personal commitments.

[Note: Also, rest assured that my commitment to change and to choose powerfully, asking for institutional acknowledgment and compensation for my work done, instead of giving away my time and energy out of obligation, is still in tact.]

However, what yesterday made me realize is that, what is deeply important to me, more than compensation or acknowledgment for all the things that I’ve done, is to be seen, heard, and acknowledged for who I am.  There is a unique difference that each of us makes as individuals.  Yes, individual change and impact can only go so far, but without individuals (working in coalition), institutions will not change. People are important. Individuals are important.  And, our individual humanity and perspectives are important.

If nothing else, I hope that what I communicate to the people around me is that they matter, not just for what they do, but for who they are.  We are each imperfect, but I believe each person is also trying the best they can with the set of knowledge and beliefs that they have.  It costs me nothing to acknowledge them and who they are, and it can make an invaluable difference in someone’s life.

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