Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A Person's a Person, No Matter How Small

Apparently I'm really bad at blogging regularly. This semester I've been trying to form the habit of working out two to three evenings a week, plus I'm trying to cook the majority of my meals, and I'm trying to be more intentional about spending time with friends more regularly than I often do. And last week I spent a lot of hours reading the Hunger Games trilogy. So blogging hasn't been top priority lately. Sigh.

A couple weeks ago, I was invited to a meeting which included several mid- to high-ranking people on campus. I was the first one there--mostly because I didn't really know where the room was terrified of being late--and thus was the first one there. From the moment the receptionist showed me in to the conference room, I could tell she thought I'm more important than I am. She seemed nervous. She overflowed with apologies that the room was cold and that there were rings on the table from people's drinks the previous day. "I am so sorry! There were back-to-back meetings in here all day yesterday, but I should have cleaned this for you this morning before you arrived." On and on. I kept assuring her it was fine, that I wasn't bothered by the rings, and knew it wasn't her fault that other people didn't use coasters. In fact, I kind of wanted to help her wipe down the table and straighten the place mats but was afraid that offering to help would make even more nervous and embarrassed! I tried to be very friendly and easy-going, but she kept her jitters as she sprayed and polished parts of the table.

After a minute or two of small talk, she asked, "Do you work here on campus?" to which I replied, "Yeah, I'm the admin coordinator over in such-and-such department." As soon as the words "admin coordinator" came out of my mouth, the woman became noticeably calmer, more at ease. Because she had discovered that she and I are equals. For all she knew when I walked through the door, I was a big wig from an important company or represented a large donor to our institution. She assumed that I was a V.I.P. who considered herself to be superior to this lowly receptionist. That I expected to be waited on hand and foot.

I left that encounter with mixed feelings. First, it felt really weird to be treated with that much politeness and respect. Usually I feel I'm struggling to convince people that I do much more than they realize--not trying to convince someone that I'm as low on the totem pole as she is. Truth be told, I wore my best new outfit that day and accessorized with an (office-owned) iPad because I felt like I had to prove myself to this room full of higher-ranking colleagues.

Second, I kind of hated the way this receptionist treated me. Because I hated that she felt like she was less valuable than me. And I hate that the reason she feels like she's inferior is because people probably treat her that way every day. Because, no matter what her job title is--and no matter where on the pecking order she sits in relation to someone else--she is a human being who is an equally valuable individual and who deserves to be treated with just as much dignity as the next person.

In my interactions with people of all shapes and statuses, I try very hard to treat everyone with the same level of decency and respect. I sometimes fail when I call a customer service line or refrain from saying something kind to the person cleaning the glass doors leading into my building. And certainly it's appropriate to honor those who have worked hard to earn multiple Ph.D.s or who have been teaching and publishing twice as long as I've been alive. But from the people who empty the trash cans in my office to the people who are highest in command, we're all human beings created in the image of God, and I think we should treat each other with dignity.

If I ever graduate from administrative coordinator into a title that would tempt me to demand special treatment, I sincerely hope I'll have the humility to resist that temptation. Because a person's a person, no matter how (big or) small.


  1. I totally know what you mean - my title at UTSA is senior administrative associate - basically a glorified secretary when it all boils down. Each university has its own pecking order and everyone quickly learns their "place." The admins even have their hierarchy - office assistance, admin I, admin II, senior admin, etc. I myself am guilty of (inwardly) thinking, "Oh that person is just an admin I, I don't have to listen to her." :-(

  2. Keep up the good fight. Don't let people talk down to you, and don't ever forget how it feels to be demeaned. I used to say that to all my GAs because I want them to remember those feelings when they become professors themselves. I find it easier in my current position, since almost everyone who comes in my office is in a different socio-economic bracket from me. I don't get lost in the bubble. Most of the time.