If only I’d kept my big mouth shut! Admittedly, it was my own fault. At the time, it seemed like such a good idea. I had an all girl staff and everyone held a leadership position. Logically, I would teach them Girls Leadership Institute stuff. Duh! Then my colleagues would know—or at least have some sort of familiarity—with giving and receiving constructive criticism, active listening, and “I statements”; what it takes to be an effective leader, pushing and avoiding scripts, and positive ways to manage conflict. So maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised when one of the girls used what she learned from me, on me.
It didn’t take long for my best friend Jovana and I to decide we would have to serve the National Society of Collegiate Scholars at Temple University as President and Vice-President if the organization we loved had any hope of surviving another scholastic year. I never wanted to be President. Mainly, I feared my senioritis might flare up and keep me from fulfilling all of my presidential duties. But we both knew she couldn’t do it either. Jovana’s highly-involved Resident Assistantship (and her unnecessarily nosy boss) on campus wouldn’t allow her the time to commit to it. And the only alternative we had was handing over the presidency to an upcoming sophomore who knew little to nothing about the inner-workings of our organization. So it came down to this—we quit or we lead.
As the realization of this undertaking sunk in, I decided I actually wanted to do a good job as the President. We started off this academic year with an innovative seminar I aptly named “Executive Board Retreat 2009” meant to unite and excite my board members. We would play games, eat food, and learn! Jovana prepared herself to talk about stress and time management and balance. I would tackle conflict.
After two summers with GLI, I felt like a conflict expert. I sat my board members in an intimate GLI-reminiscent circle and made them address an imaginary conflict using the tools I passed on to them. They struggled and looked to me for help. I lead them, encouraged them, and corrected them every time I heard the word “but”. They all took to it exceptionally well, maybe a little too well.
The year before, I promised my honor society that I would take the lead if and only if my best friend remained the Vice-President. Only her support and perfectionism had a good chance of offsetting that senioritis of mine. She gave me her word but she warned me this organization had better not come between our friendship. That seemed easy enough and I agreed. So why did it surprise and hurt me as her friend when she informed me soon after the retreat that she’d been contemplating resignation as Vice-President?
We sat there in deafening silence. Her eyes were still red. She seemed to think it was my fault she’d been crying. But I really didn’t want to hear anything else she had to say. She’d said a mouthful. She had no intentions on taking my thoughts on the matter into consideration. She was so bossy—she’d always been—and she just didn’t want to take direction from me! That’s what this was really about. How dare she go back on her word? I didn’t even want to be President! She was so selfish.
“I feel hurt when you…” I heard her begin and quickly set my feelings aside. She approached me just the way I taught her. I stopped her then, mid-sentence, and pulled out a pad and pen. I took notes on every critique, every feeling, and every thought. I’d pushed her. I’d hurt her. I’d embarrassed her and cut her off during the meetings. I argued with her incessantly. I hadn’t considered what I could do to help her feel more comfortable. I was so selfish.
It’s a simple matter to preach conflict management from the pulpit, positioned above those who didn’t learn it like you learned it. But it becomes much more complicated when you must use the knowledge you received. My mom always told me, “To whom much is given, much is required”.
Passion is a senior at Temple Univeristy where she studies and preaches.