Life Lessons from a Baggage Handler

When you choose to travel by air, you are given little choice in your options, other than economy or business and which seat your intuition thinks has the best chance of survival in the unlikely event of a crash, and your destination of course (the most important thing, or was it the living in case we crash seat choice?). But when it comes down to it, everyone must go through the proverbial security check like well-behaved livestock, everyone must provide their ID, everyone is expected to remain seated during turbulence and when your bag is over the weight limit you are expected to pay. And no matter if you are economy, business class, seat sale on Expedia, it doesn’t matter when it comes to the handling of your baggage. Stored in the same cargo area, handled with the same amount of care (great or little), all coming out at the same carousel (hopefully – or should I have just done carry-on?!)

Have you ever noticed those anxious people who hover incredibly close to the baggage carousel once it starts moving, no bags yet, but maybe its a magic carousel that will miraculously produce your bag out of thin air and you only have 5 seconds to claim it or it will vanish again – oh the indignity! For whatever the various reasons are for these hovering luggage-grabbers they seem to struggle to recognize the slow circular nature of the baggage carousel design. If you can’t grab your bag in this space you occupy, you can just move to another space to grab it and your bag won’t be dumped into some unclaimed, inaccessible pile after your first attempt. They don’t know this because they are always the first ones to grab and go. If everyone just stood back a solid 6 paces and waited (maybe even did some deep breathing exercises…no? Too far?) there would be more space for all bodies to move efficiently. The baggage carousel – a tiny microcosmic reflection of the world in which we live.

Anyway, as per my title, the baggage thing was my actual point. But man, I love me a good metaphor. So here’s another for you…every passenger has their baggage and it is all treated the same for most intents and purposes. Hold that for a moment while I digress (aaaagain).

As a teacher, Mom, Wife and Human Being I find myself treating the baggage of others differently. I pass judgements in order to assess the handling of said baggage. Like if the baggage is really big, it will get more of my attention and support to lift it. But if the bag is smaller (to my own discernment), I might stand back and let the person handle it on their own (and sometimes they can). And if a student, colleague, or family member asks me to help with their baggage, many times I can be counted on. But sometimes, dependent on the situation, I might also say (in my head) that’s pretty small, I think you can do it yourself. (I have my own bag to deal with too).

You’ve probably realized I am no longer talking about Samsonites and Heys.

By judging each persons baggage we fail to give what is needed – the help they are seeking to deal with their emotional baggage (no matter my perception of magnitude or insignificance). Ultimately I don’t know what precious thoughts, emotions and self-fulfilling prophecies are in their suitcase and I am not entitled to judge this. If their perception is I need help because it is too heavy for me to carry/process/work with right now, then that is their truth. It is my opportunity to then respond without judgement and instead, compassion.

The child who we (society) think has it all (or doesn’t have enough) but is acting out for attention and lacks boundaries is actually just asking for acceptance without labels of judgement. Asking them how they feel in a moment of unexpected behaviour may be all they need to move from your co-regulation to eventual self-regulation. Gradually of course, it’s never instantaneous. And it may seem like I am only referring to children, but I am not. This is about humans.

However, if we deny this emotional holding because we’ve already made the assumption this child is attention-seeking or manipulative (or another judgemental label of us knowing better), we deny the child their authentic self. The harm this may cause in the long run, is too risky a practice to continue. (See my previous blog posts for various adaptations I made for myself, when faced with unmet needs and detachment from authenticity – suuuuper uplifting stuff;)

If a child feels disliked by you – even thought this isn’t the case for you…it is for them. You must own that to repair it. No one learns from feelings of otherness and unworthiness.

A parent was once brave enough to tell me through her own tears, that her son thought I didn’t like him. Not the case at all, I really liked this kid, but was hard on him because I saw his under-utilized potential and thought he just needed that push. Once my ego got over the initial sting of her words, I thought about how he must feel every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday morning and the fact that it was already June – he had been feeling this way most of his year. I owned it and spoke to him immediately. I actually got up and left the meeting to speak to him directly (after excusing myself at the right break in the conversation – I’m not that erratic – usually). I told this student that I hear what he is saying and understand his feelings and I apologized for how he feels in our classroom. My relationship changed with him instantaneously. His behaviour changed in the classroom and so did mine. The only thing I wish that parent did differently, was told me sooner. I can’t thank that parent enough for advocating for her son and educating me to change my thinking. I now understand I can hold my students and my son to high expectations, but I better be damn well ready to hold them emotionally as well.

As a teacher (or anyone who finds themselves interacting with emotional humans) it begins with getting real with ourselves and understanding the negative thoughts we harbour about others (colleagues, administrators, students, parents) and why they are “triggering” to us. From my recent work with compassionate inquiry and self-compassion, we are triggered by others because it brings up the negative thoughts we carry about ourselves (like the self-critical badge of honour many teachers and parents carry around pinned to their heart – I mean, ouch!)

I recently came across this concept in Kristen Neff’s book Self-Compassion. It has really helped me diffuse some of the resentment land mines I bury in my own war zone. She says the way someone treats you has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with themselves. Try saying this to yourself and insert someone of your triggering choosing like Mom, Dad, Brother, Sister, Donald Trump… and see what mind shift might happen for you.

The caveat when working with children is they think that everything that happens is “on them”, their fault. Egocentrism is a natural stage of neurobiological development. We were all children once and learned to own these negative messages early, shaping our very identity. Just as our parents were children once and their parents and so on. As adults we can learn to recognize this cycle and interrupt it in ourselves – in turn cultivating self-compassion. Reflexively doling out an abundance of compassion to our students, children and other people who come to ask for help with their baggage – no matter how big or small.

So, if my message is convoluted, it’s probably the way I process (I beat the crap out of the outside of a bush sometimes) and so it actually is. See what I did there, its not you…it’s me. But if you’ve been in my shoes in any of the above mentioned roles, denying another human being (big or small) the compassion they are searching for in a moment of struggle, then I ask you to start with this…listen and smile. Make eye-contact, give a knowing nod of recognition, a flare in the middle of a dark storm “Yes, I hear you.” And if these actions feel hard or wrong for you, be gentle with yourself too. However, if you are in complete dismissal of this and thinking it is NOT in my job description, then reconsider why you work with kids. If you teach then it may be because of the amaze-balls salary, and if that’s the case, I hope you have fulfillment in other areas of your life. I believe as a parent, the role of a teacher is to empower and comes with great influence and responsibility. Responsibility as in Response-able. It’s not about the learning outcomes, well it is, but they are secondary. The primary focus should be to respond to children’s needs, meet them wherever they are at and ask “Can I help you with your bags?”

Conversely, if you are a parent who feels like you are struggling with your child and completely messing them up for life, you are…no, I’m so kidding(ish). But as a parent you are your child’s first and longest running teacher, so this still applies to you in so many ways.

Teachers, parents, one and the same…you are not alone and neither are our children, but we have to work together to change this perception of feeling alone. It can be lonely in our differences but where we all come together is in our innate need for compassion and hope for acceptance.

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