According to my social media feeds, this election apparently split some families, and many people dreaded going home to face what they saw as inevitable taunting and dissension. Others were impatient with this first group, encouraging them to go home and just be loving: “If my brother were still here, you can bet I wouldn’t be arguing about politics. I’d be appreciating him.”
I found myself in both groups. My family split down the middle on the election, with strong feelings on both sides. But we are also still adjusting to holidays with one fewer place setting.
The holiday was fine, mainly because of one of the things that we tend to forget (especially on social media): we don’t live our lives obsessed about one thing (or most of us don’t). My family didn’t argue for 72 hours over politics because we were also cooking, playing with the cats, washing cars, shopping, and watching football. We also didn’t mourn for all 72 hours because of the above list.
But we have spent holidays arguing, and we have spent them mourning. And those were fine as well. Because sometimes you simply have to accept where you are. As much as you love your family, there will be times when you fight. And sometimes, all you want to do is stay in bed until the holiday is over. And you have the right to get through those times the best way you know how.
This week, many families will sit down at the Thanksgiving table and, before eating, go around the table and express their gratitude. Since I won’t be eating dinner with you, here’s what I’m thankful for this year:
- Belonging to a loving family.
- Living in a country where dissent is tolerated (although often mocked on social media).
- Having students from all over the world who have taught me what it means to be brave, persistent, and resilient.
- Knowing colleagues who go the extra mile day after day to make sure students learn.
- Being encouraged by friends who want me to spread my wings.
- Having a reading list that I will never finish.
- Knowing that right now, somewhere, someone is creating a chocolate raspberry dessert that I have yet to try.
Happy Thanksgiving to you all.
Warning: This is a convoluted story.
Aggie from the English department asked if any of us wanted a kitten. The answer was no, since we had just spent the last month helping our IT guy find a new home for a cat, a stray that appeared at his house, didn’t get along with his dog, and was stressing out his pregnant wife. (The IT guy’s, not the dog’s.) Finally, Amy, who may have contacted every single person she ever knew, found the cat a home. (You have to understand when you have a smart and kind IT guy, you do what you can to make him happy.) We had exhausted our resources.
But then Aggie said that there were coyotes in the neighborhood and the poor stray cat could soon become a victim. That made Pam’s soft heart grow even softer, but she already has five cats. As she always does whenever there is a stray cat story, she tried to convince me to take the “baby.”
My answer was no, but also feeling guilty about the cat and possible coyotes, I agreed to help sponsor the cat’s medical bill if she found it a home. Charles, whose heart is even softer than Pam’s when it comes to animals, also agreed to help out.
So after weeks of trying to catch the cat and then make a vet appointment, the cat is ready to make the trip to its new home with Pam’s niece.
I’m not sure there’s a real point to this story, except after an election season that was so divisive and cruel, it was nice to be part of something communal and kind.
This week, I’m giving tips on group work. Do I hear a collective groan? Group work is hard for college students, especially those at community colleges where the job and family responsibilities of various group members can make scheduling a meeting harder than finding a non-musician in Nashville. But group work is a mainstay of college assignments, and groups are good practice for the workplace. So here are some tips for being a good group member:
- Be flexible when scheduling meetings and, once one is scheduled, show up. That’s just basic good manners, but you’d be surprised at the number of people who miss group meetings and then seem surprised that the rest of the team is annoyed.
- Don’t be a slacker. Do your share of the work. Once again, this seems obvious, but a main reason that people hate group work is that people won’t equally share the load.
- Don’t enable slackers. Hold team members responsible for their share. If it doesn’t happen, schedule a meeting with your professor to see what your options are.
- Be good humored. Sure, it’s not how you wanted to spend your hour between work and your night class, meeting in a group. But then it probably isn’t anyone else’s idea of a party either. Don’t bring everyone down because you’re hungry, tired, or in a bad mood. The work has to get done, but the burden doesn’t seem so heavy when people are nice to each other.
- Don’t be a dictator. Another reason people hate group work is that one person wants to boss everyone around and everything has to be done his/her way. Don’t be that person. Ever.
Being an introvert, I’ll admit that my favorite group activity happened in graduate school when all the other members dropped the course. I didn’t tell the professor and just did all the work myself.
Still, I am a firm believer in group assignments, because, like it or not, most of us have to work with teams in the workplaces. And anything that helps us build teamwork skills is a good thing. And it doesn’t have to be a painful operation. As in most things in life, showing up, being prepared and being considerate will help you succeed.
In his book, The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, Father James Martin tells of a conversation he had with another priest. Martin was not having a good day and concluded with “My life is such a cross.”
His friend responded, “Yes, but for you or for others?”
Now I have nothing against sharing our troubles or even venting them. But do we really want to be the emotional Pig Pen, walking around with fumes of anger, resentment, and anxiety spreading to every bystander?
I know more than once I’ve met up with a friend expecting a nice meal and conversation only to leave feeling as if I had just slogged through the Slough of Despond after listening to a never-ending litany of complaints. And I’m sure friends can say the same after an evening with me.
But it’s something I’m working on. After all, there are enough bad things in the world for my friends to face without adding me to the list.