Half a Smile and Lots of Love

I worked SOAR yesterday. I think I’ve mentioned it before, but SOAR stands for Student Orientation and Registration. It’s usually pretty fun: I get to see my ambassador friends and usually a couple SGA friends, too, and it’s always fun to hang out with my computer lab buddies. (Isn’t it odd, perhaps, to associate my friends with how I know them? I personally find it natural–after all, I mold myself to the situation, and in some regards to that, to the people I meet in each of them.)

In any case, SOAR is structured. Very structured. At 11:30 we start to set up. By 12:15 we start checking people in: At the table before mine, they’re signed in and given a name tag and their program booklet. Then they move to me. “Good afternoon,” I say, “Welcome to SOAR.” And proceed to hand them a colored folder. I’m very particular with my folders: I arrange nine at a time, in three sets of three shell-shaped structures, laid out like a perfect salesman. I’m very careful to vary my colors, and to not leave any folder on the table too long. Sometimes this means shuffling things around. Other times it means using an entire shell before restocking. It’s formulaic. It’s just like I like it.

And then, when the table before me speeds up just a little, or someone slows down long enough while writing their name, two people come at me at once. “Good afternoon, welcome to SOAR,” I say to the first, handing them a folder while I turn to the second, “Good afternoon, welcome to SOAR.”

Then I realised something: Despite my smile, I wasn’t sincere.

It bothered me. I hate feeling treated like nobody–although in the service industry, I’ve come to expect it and I’m not usually bothered by it–but these new students, they’re here to make a better life for themselves. They don’t always want to be there, however, and they certainly don’t want to spend their entire afternoon listening to what they probably already know. So for me to tell each of them the same thing–and to so clearly make it known that I’m doing so–is simply insulting. Why should they feel a part of this school if the first thing they face is being treated like nobody in particular?

I separated the folders by color then, putting them into five piles of three each (and later two each, to make it less crowded) and changed my tactics. Instead of welcoming people to SOAR and handing them a folder, I asked their color preference. On the one hand, it made me slightly less neurotic to get to the bottom of each shell, but more importantly on the other hand, it engaged these new students and gave them a chance to express their individuality. Sure, all the folders are the same on the inside (and I told them this so they’d know), but–I hope–doing this made them feel a little more special, a little more a part of the community they’re joining.

It was a small thing, I know, but it made me feel more sincere.

Sincerity is overlooked, I think. People sneeze; we say “bless you.” People ask how you’re doing; you say good. We run into each other with a hug and kiss and pass like sand through an open fist. We say thank you but forget to say you’re welcome, not because we’re forgetful, but because we’re not honestly thankful–because saying thank you isn’t genuine any more, it’s simply procedural. We live our lives to a standard, but it’s not a standard of excellence, but a standard of expectations. Things that bother us do so because they’re out of the ordinary. They seem unwarranted and make us uneasy. They’re not bad, mind you; they just break our routine.

It was in this mindset I went to the Single Parent Support Group’s Christmas party today. The group’s name explains itself perfectly, but what’s unsaid is that each year, clubs around GTCC sponsor families for the holiday, buying gifts to help single parents give their children the best holiday possible. (And trust me, I’ve seen how hard being a single parent can be, so I know this is just a small thing our clubs can do to help.) The GSA sponsored one such family this year, so we were able to attend the party to meet the family and all have lunch together.

I was a little nervous to meet our family–I really had no idea what to expect–but when I met the mother, I was floored. She was so bright and honest and grateful–sincerely, genuinely, wonderfully grateful–that I simply couldn’t help smiling while we all spoke. I’m sure I looked foolish with that grin on my face, but seeing how good our group had made her feel, and seeing her children and knowing they’d have a better Christmas thanks to each of us made the momentary foolishness worth it and then some. Each of them were so nice, so inspiring even, that I felt honored we were able to help them.

That’s sincerity. That uncensored emotion, that’s sincerity. Sure, it’s best with bright emotions, it’s best when positive and upbeat, but sincerity can come in any color. It’s refreshing, being in the presence of others and having that opportunity to not just be sincere yourself (because it can be hard sometimes), but being able to be in the presence of sincere people. It’s like nothing else in the world, I’ll tell you, like nothing else in the world.

I don’t know how to bottle sincerity and make it a habit, but I’d like to learn how. If I can be moved so deeply by one woman’s sincerity, think about how great this world could be if we were all a little more sincere to our friends, to our family, to our coworkers, to the people who greet us at the grocery story and check us out at the registers–to our whole communities, whatever and wherever they might be.

That’s a nice thought, I suppose. I sincerely like it.

3 thoughts on “Half a Smile and Lots of Love

  1. I love how you address the sincerity issue. We discussed this at a recent PTK officer meeting, not sure if you were there, but I’ve always had issues with people saying ‘How are you doing today?’ and leaving little room for response… a few weeks ago my 9 year old son looked at me after such an encounter and said ‘Mommy, why do they ask how we are doing when they don’t really care?’

    I love how you addressed the issue at SOAR and changed your routine to focus on the person, which is indeed a BIG step (not a small step) towards being sincere! And a GIANT step towards changing those kinds of habits for all of humankind… I’d like to think so anyway. Love ya Darren!

  2. Remember that I use to arrange the folders by color, too? good days :)
    However, I think that I was always sincere when I welcomed new students. Yes, I would sound robotic/repetitive, but I remember that I was constantly thinking about how every single person, no matter how the looked, what they wore or what race they were, they deserved to feel welcomed.
    Maybe I’m just weird like that, or maybe I have a natural gift for hospitality.
    I miss you!

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