Monday, July 16, 2012

What Lies Beneath

A sure sign of summer is the ubiquitous tip jar, especially the one at the local burger place or ice cream stand - the one that's marked up in joyous colors and boldly claims its mission: Tips for Tuition or Help Pay My Way to College. No guesswork required at these places; they're staffed by college kids who need money for school. Very few of us would balk at putting an extra dollar in this jar since we've sent our own kids, or we know families who are robbing Peter to send Paul to university, or we've, at the very least, followed the recent news about student debt.

But what about tipping elsewhere? What about the jars at sandwich shops where just plain adults work? What about the hair stylist? The cabbie? The moving company wrappers and packers? The tour bus driver or leader?

If it's customary to give tips, or if there's a tip jar somewhere, I tip. Usually, I overtip. And I overtip with intention and purpose. My reasons are threefold. First, I like the idea of someone counting out his tip(s) and thinking, "Wow, my customers are generous." I just think that in some karmic way, great tipping begets great service. On a somewhat less superficial level, I overtip because clearly, the recipient's base salary isn't all that huge, and she depends on tips to make up for it. Most importantly, though, I overtip because I have no idea what's going on in this service worker's life and for all I know, he is dealing with issues - financial or otherwise - that are unfathomable or unconquerable. At this level, it's more about the generosity of spirit that's conveyed through overtipping than it is about the generosity of the wallet.

When we apply this last approach to our students, it becomes far less taxing to accept them as they are: kids with all sorts of stuff happening to them and/or around them. Sometimes that stuff is what we'd deem light and fluffy (but it's still stuff); sometimes it's heavy and burdensome and we cannot imagine how the child is managing. Sometimes we'll be aware in some extra-sensory way (we teachers are extra-special-good at this), sometimes we will find out at a grade level, counselor, or parent meeting, sometimes we will just never know.

When we apply this approach to our students' parents (and our colleagues, and even our administrators), we can access our sympathy, and consequently our acceptance and understanding, much more readily. Lost or difficult jobs, loss of parents or siblings, illness, child-rearing woes, any internal or external struggles - these are all problems with which we can identify, or at the very least, understand. And we needn't know to understand. All we need to remember is that for everyone, always, there's always something, there's always stuff.

My pal calls this generosity of spirit "BOTD": giving someone (read: everyone) the benefit of the doubt. While we'll never know just what another is conflicted by, struggling with, or up against, it's highly likely that there's something there. By nature, teachers work in a world of BOTD; it's a by-product of being extra-special-good at sensing our students' stuff. The transfer from the classroom to beyond is easy, then: tip generously, whether in coins and bills or in peace, love and understanding - or, better yet, in all of the above.

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