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October 1, 2013

Treating people as human beings

by Jess Guth

I’m preparing for teaching this afternoon and I keep stopping and wondering what the point is. I’m feeling the loss of Dr Emma Lindley really keenly today. I didn’t know her well, we went to the same school, she was kind when I arrived as the new kid but even then she was in a different league. I was aware of her progress through academia, her PhD and her work on mental health. We didn’t meet up or chat on the phone or anything; we were friends on Facebook. Then, roughly 18 months ago my friend Rachel died suddenly. Emma’s post on Facebook in reaction to that news was something like ‘this is as unfathomable as everything else’. In the emotional chaos all around me Emma had somehow managed to capture it all in a simple statement and it was suddenly ok to feel  anger and the unfairness of it all and that it didn’t make sense. Emma was there at Rachel’s funeral and her presence somehow helped me. We met for a drink a day or two after, that’s the last time I saw her…  and now she’s gone. But this post wasn’t going to be about loss or being sad. It was supposed to be about something far more important and even less tangible than loss: the importance of treating people as fellow human beings, of valuing, not dismissing, taking seriously and being genuine. Both Emma and Rachel, in very different ways, had a knack of connecting with others on a genuine personal level. They could both make you feel like you were the only person in the world that mattered to them and that you were the most important thing at that moment. We all spend so much time rushing around not really taking in the people around us and as a lecturer I often talk to a lecture theatre full of people or a classroom full of students. I see student after student but do I truly engage with them or even see them as individuals, as someone other than a student? Probably nowhere near enough. So today in memory of two amazing young women, I’m not going to have meetings with students, I’m going to have meetings with people; I’m not going to teach my Employment Law class, I’m going to help a group of individuals learn and as I go through the rest of the day and week, maybe, just maybe I’ll  manage to convey the same sense of being valued that both Emma and Rachel so often managed to convey to others.

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