Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Cloudy Skies, Bright Minds

This morning I woke up thrilled: the skies were cloudy and the weather report promised rain. After numerous days of heat, it was nice to have the weather cool down a little.

Instead of going to our usual classroom, my class went to a different building to hear a lecture on listening skills by Dean Robin Rose. In today’s culture, almost everyone is on their phone, one of the many distractions of today’s world, interacting with people far away and neglecting to interact with the people around them. Dean Rose talked about how listening requires discipline and how, to be a good leader, you need to have this discipline. For example, imagine you are having a conversation with someone right in front of you and they check their phone while you are talking. How does that make you feel? If that were me, I’d feel like the person is bored with what I was saying and that don't want to listen anymore. Dean Rose explained that, in order to be a good leader, you need to put everything aside and listen because 60% of communication is nonverbal (hand gestures, facial expressions, etc.). A good leader should be able to make each and every person they are communicating with feel special because having good relationships with others is one of the most important aspects of being an effective leader. It’s interesting because, before I came to Brown, I didn’t really put too much thought into listening. Before this, when I thought of a leader, I didn’t immediately think of someone quieting down and listening, but now that I think about it, it is definitely one of the most important qualities of a leader.

At the end of her lecture, Dean Rose said something very interesting that I’d like to share. She said that she did not like the sentence: Young people are our future. According to her, this sentence is demeaning to young people and makes it seem like young people can only do things in the future and not now. I completely agree with what Dean Rose said because I know that young people are capable of changing anything.

After our lunch break, our class gathered in our classroom and discussed, among other topics, oppression and privilege. Dean Almandrez said that privilege doesn’t have anything to do with what you’ve done but, instead, it’s all about social categories. Additionally, you can’t have privilege without oppression. Wherever there’s privilege, there is always a group of people who are suffering. Dean Almandrez brought up an interesting point when she said that perception can take away privileges or offer privileges. For example, if a male is perceived to be gay, he might be in danger of getting beat up for people who don’t support gay rights. 

We watched a really interesting video about two actors (a man acting as a racist cashier and a Muslim woman wearing her hijab acting as a customer). In this social experiment, the cashier would insult the Muslim woman and refuse to let her shop in his store because of her ethnicity and how she was dressed. There were hidden cameras to see how other customers reacted. I was shocked because so many people chimed in with the cashier, insulting the woman who had done nothing wrong, because she was perceived as being a terrorist or friends with Osama Bin-Laden because of her appearance and therefor taking away her privileges of being able to shop in a store safely. However, a small number of people actually defended her, taking their business elsewhere or arguing with the cashier. I thought it was crazy it was that such few people defended the innocent woman. I strongly believe that there should be easily-accessible workshops around the world that teach people to be respectful and think before they judge others. I feel like many people who offend others truly don’t know that what they are doing is wrong, and it is society’s duty to teach them otherwise.

After wrapping up an intense class discussion, I attended the Hunger Banquet with many of the other students in the leadership program. The Hunger Banquet was a simulation designed to give us an example of how the class system is affecting people around the world. Upon entering a small room, we were handed cards at random (some with orange dots, some with green dots, and some with purple dots). The small percentage of people with the orange dots were instructed to sit at a table with food, while the slightly larger percentage of people with green dots were instructed to get their own food and sit on chairs, and the largest percentage of people with purple dots only got a limited amount of food and had to sit on the floor. If you haven’t already figured it out, the orange dots symbolized upper-class people, the green dots symbolized middle-class people, and the purple dots symbolized lower-class people. I was someone in the “middle-class”, so I was able to see the “upper-class” leisurely enjoying a surplus of good and the “lower-class” sitting uncomfortably on the floor, struggling to eat without utensils. We were showed a slideshow of starving kids from impoverished areas that really hit home. I am so grateful that I have a surplus of food available to me but I also feel guilty that I have so much when these kids have so little. We brainstormed ways to help the people of these areas and I definitely want to get involved with an organization to help these people when I get home.

After the Hunger Banquet, we all got stuck in a rainstorm. Most of us were dressed for hot weather so we had to run for shelter. From now on I'll be sure to take my umbrella with me everywhere I go. This wasn’t exactly what I had in mind when I said I wanted it to cool down.

Tonight’s homework for class is to read a section of our course packet for tomorrow’s class and also to start thinking about our action plan. We are still in the preliminary process for planning our action plans so I have a few ideas, but tomorrow I want to narrow my list down to one specific idea. Although I'm nervous to take on a big project like an action plan, I know that I'll be able to do it.

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