Saturday, March 14, 2009

On the Edge: Fulfillment and Disappointment in Communication

When you interact over a period of time with another person whether in a job, in a classroom or in any other formal or informal social situation, you develop a bond. That bond can be meaningful or perfunctory, depending on the value you and the "other" put on the interaction.

When I work with a person, whether we knew each other prior or not, whether our meeting will achieve the lofty heights of friendship or not, I feel like a slice of my life is being set before the person, and a slice of that person's life is being set before me, and that we each have a certain responsibility to "take care," to treat each other with respect. I feel that we need to pay real attention to each other if we want to demonstrate that our various encounters are worthwhile.

This is especially true when I meet a student in the classroom. I really don't walk into a teaching situation with the attitude that "you student, I teacher," "me great, you not." I don't adopt a pose that pits me "above" the students I work with, that sets me as their superior. I see each individual in the classroom as a vital member of a novel social situation; I see each person there as another living being who walks the earth just as substantially as me. I might have information and skills to share, sure enough, but I am also there to learn, to be invigorated, to feel alive. I also find it amazing that we have met at all, given the number of people who have inhabited planet Earth over the stretch of human history. In this sense, each teacher-student meeting is fateful.

And when I work with that student, as we communicate in class or via web communications, I feel the process has greater value than our individual contributions, that the laughs, smiles, sighs, ideas, achievements (and even certain disappointments) ought to take on significant meaning for each of us.

For this reason, when I encounter someone I've worked with or am working with in a class *outside* of class, on a sidewalk, in an eating place or mall or in a university hallway, and when in that situation, the person *consciously* ignores me, I'm invariably shocked. In situations such as these, it appears that the prior interactions we have had (especially in a course focusing on communication) were merely a mirage. It seems like "we don't know each other" and that we have never known each other after all.

And that bothers me. It makes me feel that I have wasted my breath, that I have wasted precious time, and that I have not had any effect on that person. It puts what we have shared into question. Suddenly, the attention given to me in class seems to have been feigned, faked, and for naught. Suddenly the effort I have made, whether in the form of asking and answering questions, telling stories, explaining concepts or areas of confusion, responding to blog posts or making comments on research reports and other assignments, seems to have been for one purpose alone: adding to the student's transcript & CAP.

Okay. Maybe I'm expecting too much. Maybe I'm too sensitive. Or maybe I'm just naive. But shouldn't the energy and time we've expended nurturing the bond between us mean that when we see each other beyond the classroom, we should at the very least acknowledge each other's existence?

What do you think?