Dear Kelly,

I’m not sure what to do. When I moved into my dorm a couple of weeks ago, it seemed like me and my roommate really got along. But lately, all we do is argue. We have nothing in common, and I just feel so discouraged. Is there any advice you might offer to help me improve this situation?

This is an issue that so many people face, whether it be in the workplace, the classroom, the dorm room or maybe in your own social circles. You feel forced into a relationship with a person that you just don’t see eye to eye with. You have different views and different opinions, and you seem to constantly clash with this person. The truth is, ultimately, if you wanted to, you could probably find ways to avoid them. But is that really the best solution to the problem? Are there better options?

I am a firm believer that every relationship has significance. That doesn’t mean you have to form lasting bonds with everyone you come in contact with, but I do believe there is something to gain by trying to be amicable and finding common ground. But how can you do that when you and the person you’re struggling to get along with can’t find a connection? I believe it all begins with an open heart, an open mind, and a lot of compassion and empathy.

Our ideals and belief system all derive from where we have been in our life. Our experiences, culture and upbringing all play a role in who we are, and even more so, in how we see ourselves and the world around us. It’s what drives our passions and desires, and when someone challenges our ideals and principles, it is sometimes very difficult to let go for a moment and see the world from someone else’s point of view.

As an example, years ago I had a precious child that was in my preschool class. I’ll call her “Molly.” Before the first day of class, I already had other teachers warning me about Molly. They told me she had behavior issues and could be very defiant. I was also told that Molly didn’t play well with others nor did she respect authority. So, as I always did, I did research, because my ultimate goal was always to put my students’ needs first and to help them become learners who loved school and worked well together. What I discovered about Molly provided a possible explanation for her behavior. Molly had been removed from her home and placed in foster care. In fact, Molly had been in about 10 foster homes in the year and a half prior to entering my class. Molly had learned to test the boundaries of the homes that she had been in. In addition, she hadn’t been able to establish roots — in a home, with a family or even in friendships. My goal became to show compassion and empathy to Molly while still establishing boundaries and expectations. I wanted to create a place for her where she knew she was loved and cared for, a place where she could have equity and be part of a team, and lastly, a place where she knew there were boundaries, but those boundaries and expectations were in place to help her grow, not to confine her.

She entered my class like a storm. Goodness, that first week was a challenge! But every time she stomped her foot and yelled, “NO,” I just looked at her and smiled. I kept my cool and worked through the defiance, still expecting her to follow directions while letting her know I still cared deeply for her. When she would do what she was asked, I would praise her, pat her on the shoulder and say, “You are awesome!” When she would refuse, I would look at her and say, “You know the right thing to do, and I believe you will make the right choices.” Within a couple of weeks, Molly was a positive role model in my classroom, and the biggest helper. Her laughter and joy were contagious, and to be honest, she changed my life forever.

So why am I telling you this story? I could have been like so many other teachers who refused to see why Molly acted the way she did. I could have just constantly reprimanded her and complained about how difficult it was to have her in my class. I could’ve just expected her to be like all the other children, but instead, knowing what she had been through and why she was the child that she was based on her experiences allowed me to build a bond with her that changed both of us in a remarkable way.

Your roommate’s past has shaped them into who they are, just as your past has molded you. Their experiences, challenges and upbringing have all played a part in who they are and why they think, feel and act the way they do. The reason why you both probably argue as much as you do is that you are both very passionate about your beliefs and convictions. But what if instead of defending your opinions, you took the time to listen and try to understand someone else’s views? This doesn’t mean you have to abandon what you feel to be true, but you are allowing that other person to share a piece of who they are, and in the process, you are gaining new insight about the world around you.

This world is filled with “right fighters” (a term I learned from Dr. Phil). So many people would rather be “right” than to truly listen to the person they are conversing with. What if we all started showing the people that we disagreed with respect, simply by listening to their point of view? And then, rather than trying to win an argument, you could find value in each other’s differences, and utilize the disparities to reach new compromise. This is true problem solving, and boy, our society could benefit from it.

Our world seems filled with disagreements right now. Every day we turn on the news and hear arguments and debates. People yell and scream at each other, in unison, without ever hearing what the other person has to say. So many people just want to have their say rather than having a constructive conversation where topics can be discussed, debated and problems can be solved. Too many people refuse to have empathy for their fellow man and would rather be divided due to personal opinion than united and driven to make the world a better place.

Remember, we are Mercerians, and we are majoring in changing the world. How does that happen? One step and one relationship at a time. It takes each one of us deciding to be respectful, to be empathetic and to be determined to work together to find common ground. If common ground can’t be found, it means that we work together to construct a bridge that fills the gap to our differences and helps us coexist in a united society.

You and your roommate possess what it takes to make the world a better place. But it starts with respect, empathy and a desire to find common ground. It’s there, you just have to look for it and not give up. You can do this!

As always, I wish you health, happiness and continued success throughout your journey.

Do you have a question about Mercer or coping with school in these challenging times? Each week Kelly Browning, an early childhood education/special education major and student ambassador at the Henry County Regional Academic Center, answers questions from the Mercer community. Email her at kelly.l.browning@live.mercer.edu or fill out our online form to submit your question anonymously.

 

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