Recently, a student stopped by my office to chat and catch up after winter break. A few minutes later, another student came by to discuss details for a project we're working on. The second student knew the first through an experience they recently shared. We got into an interesting conversation that took a turn towards intense and emotional. The conversation started with the second student telling the first something to the effect of, "I'm so glad I got to know you during the experience we shared. My first impression of you was so different from what it is now. You need to share who you are with other people." I jumped on that bandwagon quickly, because I agreed wholeheartedly. I have told the first student, several times, that I wanted her to become more involved on campus because I have always seen leadership qualities in her.
So...you would think student #1 would see those comments as a compliment, right? Well, not so much. She basically let us know that she was well aware of her qualities, and she was fine just sharing them with her family and friends, because those are the people she chooses to share her influential qualities with. She stated that she doesn't care to share who she is with people who have a negative first impression of her, and if they judged her based on their first impression of her, they weren't people she wanted to get to know, or allow to know her.
Student #2 and I proceeded to try to "educate" student #1 - telling her that first impressions were important, but that if she opened up to allow others to get to know her as student #2 had the opportunity to do, they would get to know who she "really" was. Not only was student #1 missing out on getting to know others outside of her circle, but those others were missing out on getting to know her. We even got into a discussion about trust, and not letting others into our hearts for fear of getting hurt. Yes, it got deep like that.
Student #1 turned that around on us by telling us that she is who she is, regardless of the impression she makes on others. She looked at me and said, "You're not with me all the time, so you don't see who I am when I'm not with you." Although student #2 and I still thought we were doing a good thing, this conversation caused tears, anger, and frustration. Student #1 felt judged by us, even though we thought we were pointing out positive things we saw in her. However, in attempting to point out what we thought was good, we also highlighted what we thought was negative in her life. That's where we were judgmental. That's where we went wrong.
Was the conversation helpful to student #1? I'm not sure. However, it was helpful to me, and possibly to student #2. As a counselor who works with college students, I have pointed out my students' leadership qualities and tried to steer them towards organizations or causes...because that's what I did as a college student, and what I still do. Student #2 holds several leadership positions on campus herself. We tried to push student #1 to see things through our perspective, and to do things our way. However, student #1 might have it right.
After all of my years of working with students, student #1 reminded me of what is really important: Who am I when I'm with you? The present - and the process of BEING with someone - is what matters most.
I don't even have to ask if I was right. I know I wasn't.