Compassionate Strangers

One of my favorite questions to ask strangers is some form of, what do you love about life?

A week’ish ago I pulled out this question just a few minutes into a conversation with the woman behind me in line for the bus to Albany.

I love asking this same, simple question is because the answers are always varied and often surprising, in the best of ways.

Her answer? It came pretty quick and was quite clear:

People’s ability to care and to show compassion for other people even if they have no relationship with them.

The second reason I love asking this same, simple question is because the conversation then usually heads off into uncharted territory.

This uncharted territory is both for me (which, with a stranger, everything is pretty much uncharted), and – more importantly – for them.

She’s a new teacher in the NYC public school system and she told me about her challenging week.

One major question that confounds her:

How does one balance the need to control the classroom and garner respect from all students, while also knowing that some students who show disrespect to her or to others may know no other way to call out for help?

I don’t feel right sharing some of the details of this story, but one thing that I do feel comfortable sharing that truly blew me away was when she said this:

The worst thing about being a teacher is about encountering parents who don’t care. Parents who will save your number specifically so they won’t pick up when you call because they don’t want to hear about their child.

We talked a bit about experience we had abroad. When she learned I had spent quite some time living in China she immediately wondered aloud, I read something about how Chinese teachers spend a lot of time discussing strategies for classes, much more so than in America. Is this true?

Our conversation extended from the line, through the bus delay, and all the way to Albany. Teaching in New York, China, Cuba, Pakistan, relationships, love, Humans of New York, and more were the topics of the evening.

She told me at one point that she doesn’t usually talk to strangers.

What was it that lead to a stranger conversation that day?

Did she just need someone to talk to?

Was it a conversation that took an unfamiliar twist after a short warm-up of regular chit-chat?

Something else?

Maybe if the result was so excellent for everyone involved, the reason’s not all that important?

Do you think it’s possible to find compassion – and comfort – in an interaction with a stranger?

Maybe you’ve experienced it before?

When was the last time?

What was it like?

Leading Role Players

In the conversation around leadership, it couldn’t be more timely than to include Kevin Ollie, head coach of the University of Connecticut (UConn) Huskies. What an 18-months, what a season, what a March, what a story. And when you take time to dig a little deeper, what a story of years of hard work, years of giving, years of teaching, and profound love.

Last night, before the big game, I wanted to see what Wikipedia had to say about Coach Ollie. This paragraph pretty much says it all:

NBA player Kevin Durant in an interview with Grantland said that Kevin Ollie (who played for Oklahoma City Thunder in 2009-2010) “taught him the ropes”, and “changed the culture of Oklahoma City”. He also said, “Kevin Ollie, he was a game changer for us. I think he changed the whole culture in Oklahoma City. Just his mind set, professionalism, every single day. And we all watched that, and we all wanted to be like that. It rubbed off on Russell Westbrook, myself, Jeff Green, James Harden. And then everybody who comes through now, it’s the standard that you’ve got to live up to as a Thunder player. And it all started with Kevin Ollie.”

I got to thinking about other Kevin-like players in the NBA who do not boast impressive stats, but add something far more valuable, something that cannot be added up in the box score.

Who are the Kevin Ollie characters in our lives or who could be in our lives? Who are the people around us who have something incredible to offer, who lead by example and inspire those they serve? What platform can we provide for them to shine even more brightly?

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If you have some time, read these three articles about Coach Ollie. I found the way the article Kevin Ollie: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know breaks down playing on 13 teams in 12 NBA seasons (team and salary) was especially interesting.

Last, it’s hard not to be inspired by Coach Ollie in this 18 minute talk that came from the 5 Fast Facts article above.