One of the most humbling conversations I’ve had this past year was with a hair stylist. I didn’t have the best first impression because she seemed a bit aloof and curt. But as strands of my hair fell, so did her initial coolness. I learned that she recently became a single parent and was struggling to raise her daughter, financially and emotionally. “Not having the best day,” she admitted.
I wanted to help. “What is the most helpful thing someone else could do for you right now?”
“People have asked me why I can’t just ask for help or act in a certain way…it’s more complicated than that and I wish they would just listen,” She sighed. “Actually, you’re the first person who asked me that. Thank you.”
As we continued to talk, any worries I walked in with vanished and I was reminded of my own privilege. No one can put on a brave face 24/7. Those who are less fortunate, who have been weathered by innumerable forces out of their own control, have even less of a reason to. There’s so much surrounding someone’s circumstance that isn’t visible, and unless we consciously check our own biases at the door, nothing will be resolved.
I joined The Sun because I love writing, but I stayed because I wanted to help more people understand each other. Communities on campus can be fraught with divisions. And I always hear from people how hard it is to get to know others outside of their closest circles after freshman year. I believe a good story should weave together the deepest threads of commonality between different people, helping them cast differences aside and igniting conversation. So I’ve always felt pulled towards our mission to publish those stories to empower diverse groups of people, hold the administration accountable, and build a more just Cornell through our stories.
Ironically, in helping others understand each other, we often forget to foster a culture of empathy amongst ourselves. I get it. Working at the Sun office from evening until 1 or 2 in the morning several times a week, receiving angry calls and messages, and trying to meet incessant deadlines would make any sensible person balk. From an efficiency standpoint, it’s tempting to just go through the daily motions and assign blame to someone when a cog in the machine malfunctions, because “that’s the way it’s always been,” or because it’s easier and faster than listening and trying something new. But I’ve learned that taking enough time when necessary, whether it’s to resist from reacting immediately to harsh words, understand another person’s differing philosophies, or reimagine outdated practices, is always worth it. It shows that you care, not just when everything is smooth sailing.
There were nights when I lay restless in bed, wondering if I made a huge mistake in signing up for any of this. What kept me going was knowing that, even though we had our faults, fights, and tensions, I was working alongside a team of the most dedicated people I’d ever known at Cornell and we all cared immensely about our work at The Sun. They have taught me like no other, and I am infinitely grateful. Thank you for teaching me to evaluate difficult situations beyond face value. Thank you for teaching me to be a more vulnerable and honest leader so that I can create a safe space for others to be vulnerable as well. Thank you for teaching me to unflinchingly challenge the old for the sake of the future. Thank you for believing in change and helping me shake things up a little. The Sun can burn and toss us around sometimes, but it’s been a hell of an awesome ride nonetheless.
Sophia Deng is graduating from the College of Arts and Sciences. She was the editor in chief on The Sun’s 135h editorial board, and blogs editor on the 134th. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.