Re-Fresh: the opening of the 2019-2020 academic year at FSAS (UB)

Dean of the Faculty of Sociology and Social Work, University of Bucharest, 2019
Dean of the Faculty of Sociology and Social Work, University of Bucharest, 2019

We’ve started the academic year five days ago, on the 1st of October (2019). In the last eleven years, this event marked something special for me: a new beginning.

There are three main reasons why: my schedule changes and for a while it allows for some routine formation, it makes clear that the summer [vibe] is over and I get to meet new people. Even though there are commonalities about this event, it feels different each year.

This year, it was a bit more special than before, as I finished my Ph.D. programme and so, I am a student of formal education no more.  Because a student I am still, as learning never stops.

Getting on the top of the previous `mountain`, namely the completion of the Ph.D., I got to learn [the hard way, must I say] that most of the struggles to reach all these imagined tops are internal.

Sure, it’s also about meeting expectations [criteria, deadlines], but once these are clear, the efforts can be put in and the gap closed. The challenge is to do the work while managing the internal struggles and turmoil. Which, depending on values, self-standards and -criticism, is not an easy task.

Hardship aside, [given that it’s part of being human], I am having a blast celebrating beginnings. It allows for planning and day dreaming [which can be planning, actually, when done intentionally], for listening to speeches, for observing people and for creating unrealistic [positively inflated] expectations.

This year though, I’ve noticed myself unintentionally going back in my mind at some words spoken by our dean [and my thesis coordinator]. Professor Buzducea welcomed the freshens and continued by naming the top positive aspects of being a student at our Faculty, most of which I experienced myself. The entire address of the Dean can be watched on Youtube [Romanian only].

What was said and made me reflect was this [I made the translation and I highlighted the key words in my view]:

“We all want to become relevant, spectacular and strong, forgetting that maybe, the most important thing is the emotional connection with the others. We could be irrelevant, but highly helpful to others. We could lack spectacularity, but be extremely appreciated by those around us. As we could have no power, but our smile could motivate others. Many social categories are confronted today with serious and various hardships. And in the face of these difficulties, the reputation, prestige and spectacularity matter less; what matter are the emotional connection, involvement, as well as our competence and actions.”

01st of October, speech by professor Doru BUZDUCEA, Dean, Faculty of Sociology and Social Work, University of Bucharest

I got to thinking about the value of emotional connection for reducing hardship. Hardship can mean so many things. For some is living with disability, with illness, with insufficient financial resources or with dissatisfaction. I will address the latter.

At times, I look around and get so much confirmation for the fact that we live in the most opulent world ever [1998 Nobel Prize in Economics, Amartya Sen, starts a book with this idea].

I went to the mall a few days ago, for instance. I dislike shopping for anything other than presents, sport items, office supplies and books. Not all of the people on Earth, but most of us living in the developed world have access to internet, content, products and [so, so many] options [there are barriers to access and development in technology is creating new forms of inequality, but we keep reading and writing about this issue]. I will go on a limb here and say that we have access to all the things we could imagine [again, not all of us, and I know it’s debatable, as generalisation, but for sure it’s true for many]. And despite all this, we are not so happy.

I read about it and I deal with this myself. Rationally, there is hardly a good reason for the constant pressure of not being or not having enough. But we are all day long bombarded with messages about how we could improve ourselves. If only we would buy that dress. If only we would attend this and that workshop. If only we would read this one book [OK, to these I kind of fall pray most often myself]. We would be better, we would know more, we would feel more confident, amazing, fabulous and more productive. Which will make us relevant, spectacular and powerful.

Well, I have tried a lot of things: buying the dress, buying the workshop/subscription, buying that one book, which is supposedly the best. They don’t work and if they work, they work for a brief period of time.

First of all, we can’t be happy/satisfied all the time and we shouldn’t be. There is purpose for sadness and dissatisfaction in life. Second of all, we grow into something different every day so our tastes and needs change, so the number of items we actually possess for more than 10 years and love as much as we did when first purchased is not high. Third, [almost] nobody really cares if you know more, if you feel more confident, powerful, spectacular, fabulous, nor that you are more productive. Despite the social media encouragement and comments. Each and every one of us has his or her own life struggles, goals and ideals. There is so much self focus, that there is barely any time left to deeply care about the other.

The only thing people really care about is how you relate to them, how you can help them and how you can build together. By this I mean that the only time people care how powerful, spectacular or relevant you are is when they need something from you or when you directly affect their life. That’s it!

I am at my happiest when I am spending real quality time with those I love and/or appreciate for their lives and contributions [quite clear which my love language is, right? Test yours here for no fee]. Creating safe environments, where people are encouraged to express themselves in an authentic and kind manner, produces immensurable value for society. Within some limits of appropriateness, must I say [all my examples include putting proper clothing on]. But when people know [truly know] that they are allowed [not penalised] for expressing [politely] ideas which go against the ones held by the majority in the room and for making mistakes, people feel encouraged to develop agency, leadership and to really give it a try [and to care, might I add].

Sometimes [most of the times, I would say] we, people, are not solely directed in our behaviours by our own values and opinions, but the context in which we find ourselves [as well as our perception of the context] is influencing how we will behave. Let’s just think about this the next time someone is not living up to our standards or when we are working towards producing positive social change.

While is great to focus on our own development, as this is one of the most important responsibilities we have as human beings, I propose you to try the following when interacting with others:

  • (a) to focus on creating authentic connections and not on how to best make your point of view win the discussion, unless it's a debate. I've seen this so many times. And what happens is that the relationship gets cracked [on it's way to being broken] as both leave the table with their initial ideas reinforced and tired of listening to the other person. In consequence, they'll avoid him/her the best they can.
  • (b) to be present in the interaction and not think of how much you wished you were doing something else. Just put the phone away! Listen! Observe! Ask questions. Make sure you understood the other. Listen some more! And reply. Just live what you're living!
  • (c) to ask yourself how could you contribute to the other person's happiness [even in a small way] and not on what's your next line. There is always a way, there is always something right to say and, if not, support can always be offered in silence. Just care to contribute!

It takes practice and practice and then, some more practice. Sometimes we ace it and sometimes we fail. Regardless, we can keep on trying.

So, yeah, I would say emotional connection is essential for living happy fulfilling lives as humans, both at work and in our private lives! I will keep reflecting on this...

Happy Teacher’s Day! Go make the day count!

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