I attended summer camp from a very early age. When I became a counselor at camp, I got to see some of the behind-the-scenes activities in the operation. One of those activities was the camp director’s pep talk (or, perhaps, the reading of the riot act) the night before Visiting Day. On Visiting Day, parents, other relatives, and friends descended on the camp to visit their campers.
The director told us to go back to the cabins that night and check each camper’s shampoo and toothpaste usage, and if it looked inadequate, to squeeze some out. He told us not to accept tips, not to sneak off, and not to smoke on Visiting Day. I was only sixteen at the time, and I gathered some important advice about dealing with adults, advice that I still follow. He told us: there is something nice to say about every child. And, if you cannot think of a single nice thing to say about a child, then you smile at the parents and say, “Little Johnny is coming along!”
I find this attitude helpful in my job as a college professor. I don’t meet a lot of my students’ parents, but it helps to remember that every student in my class is some parents’ child. What nice thing can I notice about each student, in case I do ever have the chance to meet the parents? Of course, it’s easier to think of nice things for some students than others. In challenging moments in class, I remind myself to be generous and even silently say to myself, “s/he is coming along!”
We all need to be looking for the good in people, even when it is not obvious–especially when it is not obvious.