Hello, Good Morning, How are You? These are common pleasantries that can be heard all over the world each day in countless languages. Most times, we share these greetings mainly out of habit; after all, we were told that it’s a bit rude to bypass familiar faces without rendering any form of greeting, so we continue to oblige. Truthfully, it’s a good principle to extend a friendly greeting to both familiar and unfamiliar faces but it’s even better to “be present” when doing so. What does it entail to be present, you ask? Well, let me indulge you for a moment.
Sometime last week at a training session, the instructor spoke of a time in her life when she worked in a school setting. She had noticed a 6 year old boy in her class who was constantly smiling. He smiled so much each day that he became irritable to her. She just couldn’t perceive why he smiled through everything. The instructor never asked so she didn’t realize that beneath that smile lay a truck load of pain and confusion.
One day, she noticed that the 6 year old boy and his 9 year old sister had not been picked up. It was long past closing time, so she panicked and tried contacting the children’s mother. After numerous calls and no responses, the children pleaded with the instructor to take them home. They lived about 5 minutes away from the school and vehemently insisted that their mum was home. Initially, the instructor refused to take them home, but they persisted. Eventually, she caved in on condition that she would take them to the police station if their mum was not present.
After a few knocks on the door, a feminine figure struggled to make her way to open the front door. Sure enough, it was their mom as they predicted, and she was barely functional. Apparently, she was an alcoholic and, on most days, she was highly intoxicated. On this particular day, she did not snap out of her drunken stupor in time to pick her children. It was at this moment that the instructor realized that she was up on a rugged terrain; one that would take her on a path she least imagined.
The instructor begun prodding the children and they recounted that the older sister basically took care of her brother and herself. It turns out their parents were divorced, and mom had full custody. After the instructor intervened, the appropriate authorities were contacted, and the children were removed from her. It makes you wonder how a simple moment of paying attention and being in the present led to a change in the children’s predicament. Following from that day, the instructor resolved to creating a relationship with each child in her care and she remained “present” in their lives until she resigned from her position.
I can’t help but think that if the instructor had taken a moment to get to know this “smiling kid” , she probably would have known about their condition sooner. Sometimes, the people who smile the most, who are well dressed, and who counsel others could also use a bit of saving themselves. So when next you encounter someone, don’t just say hello, mean it. Be present, be in tune, be sensitive, and be kind. It will make all the difference in someone’s life.