Transforming Your Perceptions: Inspiration for Those in Service

I’ve been on a journey for the past few years. The path has led me to many realizations that have radically changed the way I serve as a Police Officer, School Resource Officer, Educator, Counselor, Friend and Parent. I realized that for anyone to be truly “in service,” we must drop our preconceived perceptions of others. There is a transformative power that comes when our actions reflect this new attitude.

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School began last week in my community and I addressed the new, nervous and lovingly nutty seventh graders with a speech to introduce myself. As a recovering Type-A, I’ve learned to put down the scripted lecture and note cards, and speak from the heart. Consequently, I had many positive interactions and several transformative experiences last week. I’m sharing my observations to outline ways in which YOU can transform your perceptions and be of true service to others.

A student came into my office, made eye-contact and shook my hand while saying, “I just wanted to introduce myself.”  I saw him as a personable young man who exuded kindness, good character and respect. I know that others may see him differently; male, a football player, a teenager, black, and intimidatingly tall for his age. Think for a moment (and be honest)...what are you perceptions of: football players? size? teenagers? black males? Our implicit bias hinders our ability to create meaningful relationships with others, thus it’s imperative we consciously fight to reduce and exonerate this.

The first step is awareness: drawing attention to our opinions and biases.

In the middle of the week, we identified several students who had extreme anxiety over the obligatory "first week of school" fire drill. A couple of our students were crippled with fear, unable to feel safe and secure in their learning environment. It would have been easy to judge these students by saying, “they’re just playing it up to get out of class” or “they need to grow-up.” Instead of judging, I empathized; they must feel so frightened... how can I help them work through this without dismissing their fears? In times like these, I often go back to the L.E.A.P. Model and bring the village together. I coordinated a meeting with the Fire Chief, Fire Lieutenant, School Assistant Principal and Guidance Counselor. I thought about L.E.A.P. and how this team could use our Leadership skills to Empower these children to successfully evacuate, while being Aware of their emotional response, to Protect them from potential emergency situations. Our coordinated response was a success, and the children and their families were appreciative of our efforts.

The second step is empathy: the ability to understand and share the thoughts, feelings and emotions of another.

Towards the end of the week, I talked with a new Staff Member (who I will refer to as SM). I introduced myself and the most inspiring conversation ensued. SM came from another district, vastly different from ours. She works tirelessly to achieve her goals, and still has a ways to go to reach her dream job. SM shared her excitement, fears, and emotions about this next chapter in her career. I listened, mindfully, and then shared that I have experienced those same fears and emotions at various times in my life. I thought about her difficult path to success, and how proud I was to know someone like her. I wanted to encourage her to keep going, and show that I cared about her success. I gave her a copy of one of my favorite motivational books that has helped me on my own path (I think I am going to re-read my own copy this week).

The third step is mindfulness: paying attention (on purpose) with kindness and curiosity.

My advice for you? Continue down your path of service with the steps above in mind, and develop a daily practice that is rooted in intention. 

1. Take a minute in the morning to recite the following phrase (or come up with your own):

 "I will act with kind, curious, and compassionate awareness today, for both myself and others." 

2. Come back to this phrase throughout the day when needed. Are you practicing kindness, curiosity and empathy? Are you noticing any biases or opinions you hold? If so, just bring awareness to it.

3. At the end of the day, reflect on whether or not this intention had a positive effect on yourself and others today.

Journey well and walk easy on the path. Remember, you are a work in progress!