Tuesday, 24 July 2012

The human element

There is something to be said about the importance of the human element. It was this realisation that helped me relate to my students when I taught them, and it's something that I continue to use now that I'm back in the corporate world.

It seems that a theme runs through my life. It's as if The Almighty knows that I can't see the world right now, and so He brings the world to me. It felt like that when I taught English and I was the only South African in a class full of foreign nationals from 16 different countries.

And it's much the same these days on my way to the office, where stepping into a lift/elevator with colleagues from at least 7 different countries, speaking 12 languages between us, is quite the norm. In fact, there are only 2 people in my department who speak English as a first language, and that's me and The Bald Headed Texan.

Anyway, back to the human element. It helps to know what makes people tick. Not to control or manipulate them - but to better understand and respect where they come from, what they stand for, what they value and how you can fit into their lives in a way that can yield good results on a personal and professional level.

When I taught those 18 students at the Institute, the common thread in those exotic fibres was the overwhelming need for a connection. It was more than just obvious that they were all very lonely beings - in their respective ways longing for a sense of home, coming from very far, and many of them not having any family or friends in this new country.

And it was then that I introduced the concept of a family. In a class where people ranged from adolescence to middle age - I'd appoint the most senior from the males and females and would call them Mamma and Pappa. Then I'd appoint the emotionally bereft and silently needy from the younger crowd and christen them the sons and daughters of Mamma and Pappa - and their peers their brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles and cousins.

Essentially, what we were left with was one huge family... the parents and each of their siblings, cousins and family friends, and then all their kids. It began in the name of fun - something to break the ice and make people more comfortable around each other.

And then, somehow, it became something more...

They were family in name, but those names made them act like a real family. The power of labelling. Suddenly, "Mamma" was looking out for her "kids". And the "kids" kept tabs on their "parents". And "Pappa" would take care of his "sisters" and so it continued. 

The family bickered, laughed, had fun, cried - they shared stories, meals, study time - all of it both inside AND outside the classroom. Some of them kept their roles long after the class ended. My part in it was always as The Grandmother. The Mother figure they came to in times of distress or joy - personal or class related.

And just like that, they were no longer alone, sad or lonely in a foreign place. And such is the power of the human element. No man is an island.


  1. Grandmothers usually know best! Those people were/are lucky to have you.

  2. You're so right - the human element is what I look to as well to relate to someone. You are a kind person and those kids will remember it throughout their lives

  3. :-))) What a wonderful, innovative concept you introduced! Love it. As @The Roving Retorter said above, "[they] were/are lucky to have you." And you're absolutely right about the profound power of the human element.

  4. Oh wow, that's a very lovely concept.

  5. love this story. the power of positve labelling and you're very clever with it :)

  6. Roving Retorter
    I hope they thought so, I had a huge amount of fun with them :)

    We had some great times and we're planning to meet up after Ramadan. I hope all of them can make it :)

    Pretzel Thief
    An excellent example of the human element is how I can relate to each one of the commentators here - even though we're miles apart and have never met :)

    Terra Shield
    It wasn't so lovely when they engaged in "sibling rivalry" LOL!

    Human beings are easy to sway - all it takes is someone willing to validate them and they will do whatever you want! ;)

  7. NOT to control or manipulate them? And you're telling me this NOW? I must be in the wrong profession. ;)

  8. RCB
    You are, dear Randy. You need to switch jobs so we can both be Bankers hahahaha!

  9. I love this post. What a great ice breaker and bonding activity, especially since everyone comes from different parts of the world. If only more teachers were as awesome as you. :)

  10. Thanks :) It's funny how they still call themselves by those names "Mama Flor" and "Papa Juan" LOL!