I have been in the same office on 34th street for many years and, like all of us, I’m caught in the patterns of routine. But every so often I’m reminded that we are enriched by getting to know the people we work with.
We’re enriched by the side conversations, the extra cups of coffee, and the extra discussions that allow us to build intimacy with those we work with.
A younger colleague of mine began working in a research & administrative capacity at our Cornell office about a year ago. Essentially we had no real work interface with the exception of him doing me a favor every once and a while. Our quick chats grew over time and soon they developed into genuine discussions. Soon I found myself dropping by his desk asking him for his feedback on some ideas that had just caught me. A mutual exploration began to occur as we both found common interests about what makes people proactive.
I began to marvel at his world outside of work. Little to my knowledge, he had been actively involved with a group of community friends and colleagues who were developing a new charter high school in Plainfield, New Jersey called the Barack Obama Green Charter High School. It’s set to open this fall and it will give many young people in Plainfield a different type of education.
Outside of his work at Cornell my friend has been involved in the grass roots movement to help his community create an innovative charter school. With my interest in leadership, I became more and more enthralled about how my ideas on the subject could be integrated with his efforts.
Last week, I was in Plainfield for a fundraiser for the new school. We heard Professor Cornel West speak about issues of leadership, race, and class. He delivered an impassioned and an intellectually artful presentation, linking the efforts encapsulated in the charters school to the wider issues of poverty, opportunity, and local control in the 21st century. Professor West delivered a presentation grounded in the American ethic of mobility, enriched by cultural history, but at the same time pragmatic in its implication, well worth the traffic jam on the Pulaski Skyway.
I was enriched by the evenings experience and I have already began to explore what implications it has for my own thinking. Had I not reached across the cubicle, made a friend down the hall, I would have just gone to the gym that evening, watched a little PBS, read a book, and would not have learned as much I did in Plainfield.
Today, I’ll head into the office, my friend, the social entrepreneur, will be back in his desk and I’ll be meeting with my students, but we both will have shared an outside work experience that has enriched our lives and our work.
The next time you walk down the hall thinking you don’t have time to get know the people around you, think again.
Picture Credit: Somedesignerguy