Saturday, May 26, 2007

Sweat the Small Stuff

A common archetype in fiction is the character who is always unpleasant to be around, but when the chips are down, is revealed to be the type of person you want on your side. A heart of gold underneath a gruff exterior, and all that.

In real life, though, the metaphorical chips usually aren't down. The usefulness of such a character is limited. In fact, I think absent any foxholes in one's life, it would probably be preferable to be acquainted with someone nice on the exterior, yet secretly selfish on the inside, as opposed to someone selfless on the inside yet abrasive on the outside.

While I think a truly virtuous person would have to have a deep regard for others, I think too often the superficial is overlooked in the consideration of virtue. I'm especially interested in how this relates to people in positions of power and influence. This point was driven home for me by my students on the last day of classes yesterday. I gave them the opportunity to voice any feelings they had about how the year went for them. Thankfully, many of them commented about what they had learned, and even how they had applied things they had learned. However, many more commented on matters that some would consider trivial. They mentioned things like how they appreciated that I would say "hi" outside of class, how I didn't yell at them, how I appreciated their humor, and how I wasn't afraid to dance at their Prom, given my limited skills in that area. They mentioned (unfunny) jokes that I had made months ago, and tangents I had gone on about comic books.

On the flip side of the coin, one student mentioned the time that I had referenced only having two boys in the class, forgetting for the moment that he qualified in that area. He related this with a smile and also related positive memories, but the reminder he gave me was powerful. What people say off the top of their head matters. The effect of seemingly minor words and attitudes matter. While this is true to an extent for everyone, it is especially true for those of us in positions of influence, where throwaway phrases and even facial expressions carry deep significance. It can be a heavy burden to always have a filter and a governor (and an especially heavy burden on the all too many days when lack of sleep and overwork take a palpable toll on the mind and body). However, in my case, the burdens were outweighed by the rewards.


Blogger ahoehler said...

I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed hearing those comments from the classes, and everyone I've talked to has always said how much they have enjoyed your class. Even even though Jon (and most everyone else) thought we had a lot of papers, it has helped us all greatly.

Thank you for helping make this past school year one to remember! :D

10:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Cigelske, wow, that was a powerful piece of writing. I'm glad that the rewards outweighed the burdens. Thanks for investing your time and energy with us this year. You know, I really like Johnny Cash, and at first sound I didn't really like Bob Dylan. I guess I'll just have to learn that it isn't about the singer's vocal talent, but the truth behind the words of the lyrics. Good luck in Wisconsin. - Aaron

8:58 PM  
Blogger carsonh76 said...

mr. cigelske, thank you for mentioning us!!! i can only hope that one day i will be able to write like you. taking your class immensley helped me in writing, english, and musical knowledge!!! why must you leave>?!??! I hope you will come and visit. you are a teacher and person i will never forget. thanks for everything.

12:26 AM  
Blogger carsonh76 said...

new music for your listening pleasure:

silversun pickups - carnavas

wilco - sky blue sky (supurb guitar work)

of montreal

mastodon - blood mountain

how did u like bloc party? let me know.


12:33 AM  

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