Lessons from the Black Knight

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I love this image! It shows how conversations intersect. I assume the overlapping parts indicate shared interests, trying to find commonalities. 

During my first semester in college, I was required to take a one-credit “introduction to college” type class called Critical Issues Symposium (CISM). Each instructor approached this class differently, I’m told. Some people had quizzes. Some had to keep a journal of who knows what. I believe they had instruction for note taking and test taking and adjusting to the transition of a college workload.

The guy leading my class was a visual arts instructor. He had no desire to offer tests or really force us to do too much of anything. We mostly had class discussions.

I believe the first time our class met, he brought out a TV and played us a clip from Monty Python and The Holy Grail. Yes, that Black Knight.

And afterward he asked us to explain the importance for watching the video. No one raised their hand. I was the one to suggest that it highlights the value of not giving up. Of persevering. That somehow “it’s only a flesh wound” could be a rallying cry to keep trying despite having reasonable excuses for giving up.

It was the first major experience I had of being able to analyze something beyond the surface and apply it to real life. When you’re starting college, it’s incredibly important to not give up. To not get discouraged. To find other approaches if something isn’t working out.

The rest of CISM focused on communication, trust and teamwork. Valuable lessons for college and life in general. We did trust exercises in the classroom where one person at a time stood on a desk and fell backward, caught by classmates before any chance of hitting the floor. On some level I wanted to participate in this exercise, but I was incredibly scared to try. I let others go next until we ran out of time.

In various ways I practiced the Black Knight’s lesson of not giving up when attempting to socialize with others. I had moments of bravery and plenty of awkwardness too.

One brave moment was after the CISM class completed a ropes course, which oddly had no ropes involved at all. We did various trust exercises and problem solving activities. You know: Form a circle, and while holding hands the entire time, figure out a way to pass a hula hoop and other random objects around the circle. Without dropping anything or breaking the circle. Things that require coordination, balance and may force a particular person (guilty!) to lean more heavily on the person next to you to make it through the exercises.

The bravery came with returning back to campus. I had piled into a car with several classmates on the way to the ropes course site, but the return trip to campus opened up another option. A really cute guy in my class had arrived late to our meeting spot and before heading back he wanted to make sure everyone had a ride instead of simply leaving with an empty car. This was someone who intrigued and I wanted to get to know. I decided this was my chance to talk to him in a one-on-one situation, a little more low-key, so I took it. For once I really didn’t care if it made me look desperate as I declined a seat in the car from the previous driver and jumped into his car.

That was a risky move on my part, but I’m glad I made that choice. It gave me a chance to get to know him a little better. He’s a talker, so there were no dead silences. He shared about liking to write and English classes and playing soccer. I mentioned where I went to high school, and my world got much smaller. He not only knew about the small school in Georgia that I attended but was friends with one of my classmates, having met her through soccer. I never would have discovered that connection through regular classroom discussions.

The awkwardness came with the night chemistry lecture I took. My residence hall was across the parking lot from the classroom building, so I was thankful for a short walk at night. And a boy in my class lived in the neighboring dorm, so we would often leave class together and walk in the same direction. I tried to start up conversations, keep it friendly, since we were basically walking side by side. Those efforts didn’t go very far, but I tried. And I at least took the opportunities to initiate conversations even if they weren’t well received. I was fine walking in silence, but there are times when it seems silly to not acknowledge there are other people nearby.

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Navigating cafeteria socializing

One thing that completely baffled me was hearing other girls freaking out about not being able to set foot in the cafeteria by themselves. They couldn’t eat a meal alone; there had to be a group or at the very least a partner. This made no sense to me. I could understand why it might be boring to sit by yourself, but to outright refuse without having company did not compute. I was perfectly fine eating by myself. I did it all the time. Usually I used the time to catch up on reading or studying or to do some personal writing in a journal.

But there were some random days when I wanted company. So in these instances, I approached others who were sitting alone and asked if I could join them. I avoided people who were sitting in a particular spot that resonated “I want to be alone” vibes. I’m sure every cafeteria has those. People who had piles of books open, a clear indication they were studying or super focused on something, those individuals I generally left alone.

I tried to pick out people who didn’t seem like too much of a threat, people who wouldn’t be intimidating. Generally speaking these were enjoyable experiences. We stumbled through the awkward questions of introduction, but I think for the most part we found something relatable. Even if that wasn’t the case, it made the shared meal less lonely.

And somehow one breakfast partner was a guy. A guy I found to be really cute. He was tall, on the school basketball team. I considered him way out of my league, so somehow that made him approachable, reducing my social anxiety to a point. He had a table to himself and somehow I found the nerve to ask if I could join him.

We talked for a bit, sharing about basketball. I learned more about what it was like to play for the college team, the practice schedule, the expectations. And I think we shared one more meal after that. One of his teammates was in my Spanish class, so maybe somehow that made it seem easier, made him more normal instead of  having a kind of celebrity status. I don’t know. But there were a few times when I’d see him on campus, away from the cafeteria, and he’d smile and nod in my direction. So that recognition was pretty cool, a nice ego boost. I wasn’t completely forgettable.

Looking back, I’m impressed with my courage. Even if I couldn’t practice this boldness everywhere, I at least found ways to reach out. You have to start somewhere. One-on-one was a good place to begin.

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