They Will Never Forget

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ~Maya Angelou

2005 SI StPaul King Small GroupI remember so clearly when this quote struck me in a life-changing way.  It was in the summer of 2005.  I had recently joined the NACADA Executive Office staff, and since I had never attended the Summer Institute during my years as an advisor, Charlie Nutt suggested I go and take part in the full experience.  He asked veteran faculty member (and association Past President) Nancy King (who I had not previously met) to allow me to join her Small Group, and Nancy graciously accepted me.  All of my NACADA friends who know Nancy will not be surprised to hear that it was a marvelous experience, and that my admiration for Nancy was immediate and profound (and has only grown in the years since then). She is grace and caring personified.

In addition to serving as a Small Group Leader, Nancy also was a general session and topical presenter.  Throughout her discussions, Nancy wove thought-provoking quotes from a broad range of interesting folks, such as Harry Truman, Dale Carnegie, Stephen Leacock, William James, and T.S. Eliot.  I enjoyed hearing them all and appreciated their applicability.  But it was Nancy’s closing quote from Maya Angelou that struck me with a powerful force that I immediately knew would stay with me forever. Perhaps I was open to hearing her words from first having seen her exemplify them.

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

I was raised in a very low context environment, and I definitely tend to operate more towards the task- than people-oriented end of the spectrum.  I know there have been times – probably many times – when I have focused on task completion at the expense of someone’s feelings.  It’s what my upbringing taught me is the right thing to do.  Duty, obligation, responsibilities – these are the things I learned to prioritize.

But something in the way Nancy King spoke Maya Angelou’s words penetrated my brain’s responsibility schema like an arrow and moved through to my emotional core to pierce a memory of a time when someone important in my life placed their responsibility ahead of my feelings.  And with a burst of certainly, I knew that these words held a profound truth that I needed to heed.  We might call it an epiphany.  Something in my core was changed forever.

It’s been almost nine years since that day, but that experience has stayed with me, and I have tried to alter behaviors – as seemed appropriate – to honor it.  I know I’m still a long way from perfecting it, but I’m working on it!  When I created my About.Me/leighcunningham page a couple of years ago, I chose this quote to make the statement of what I now believe to be true – even if I don’t always manage to live up to it. I also began following Maya Angelou on Facebook a while back, and I guess these words must have had great significance for her as well.  Now that she has passed on to the next chapter of her Journey, I don’t know how long her family will keep her Facebook account open, but if you go there today, you will find that, on May 1, 2009, it was the first thing she posted on her wall.

Maya Angelou-first FB post

In my previous posting, I shared my appreciation for people who inspire me to be a better person.  Some of those people – like Dr. Nancy King – I have been blessed to have met in person and can count as colleagues and friends.  Others, like Dr. Angelou, I have only seen via media or met through the pages of a book.  For all of them, I give thanks.  I will never forget how they have made me feel, and I hope I can pass that on.

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