You cannot fake sincerity

“Yes, miss I threw him to the floor and kicked him in the head, but he deserved it”

“Sigh”

“I’m sorry Mrs. Navath, your son will receive a suspension, for causing harm to another child.”

Sometimes, policy and procedure, means that when a child was badly injured, a suspension may be necessary. This was often met with overzealous parents who, despite not ever being on the playground at the time they never, ever believed (or wanted to believe) that their child would have caused such harm, even with a confession from their child. The victim had a cranial contusion and concussion due to the kicking, but according to Mrs. Navath, that must have happened some other time.

In the return from suspension meetings, amidst the reflections and promise of a new day, a new start, I would always try to highlight the strengths of the child. I reassured the child and parents, that they were supported and able to move beyond the incident. Parents don’t always hear these good intentions with true sincerity.

I remember this parent so enraged about the suspension she bailed me up and threatened me in front of the whole school community. I was of course, upset, devastated, and despite knowing this child would be leaving in a few months, I still had to maintain a relationship with the parent as she had two younger children at the school.

In our personal lives we can decide who we do and do not interact with, as a leader in a school we simply do not have that luxury, we are there to serve. Every time I saw this parent, I would go out of my way to say hello, to be kind, friendly and approachable, but I knew the message was not getting across, she would find fault in everything, and I think she enjoyed scowling at me.

A year or so later I saw her child, who I had suspended, working in a take-away food store. I watched him as he served an old man who clearly could not make up his mind about dinner. The child was patient, polite and smiling, there was no pressure and only an incredibly gracious attendant to an indecisive senior was what I witnessed.

“No that is ok, sir, you take your time…” smiling and patiently waiting.

When I saw this child’s parent a few days later – I told her what I saw, with sincerity, awe and compassion. She unexpectedly lifted her head, made eye contact, and smiled at me, she said “thank you for telling me.” Her response in my eyes was more like a big chested proud moment that screamed “thank you for really seeing him.” It changed our relationship and a smile, or a wave given was now reciprocated.

Compassion can be mechanically outlined as a to-do item, on a return from suspension sheet. Genuine sincerity however, cannot be faked.


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