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Miss me? Of course you did. Next time I’ll try to give you a little advance warning before I take a week off. We wouldn’t want you to go into convulsions or anything from the shock of Fuwjax withdrawals.

I’ve been reminded this past week of a conversation I had way back when with one of my freshmen when I was a sophomore in Lechner Hall.

“I feel so disillusioned,” she said in a tone of voice somewhere between bitter and frustrated. “Aggies aren’t at all like I imagined they would be.” It was only 2 months or so into the school year, far too soon to be disillusioned in my opinion. But she was an old friend I had known since high school, so I sat down to hear her out.

A&M has a long standing tradition of being the friendliest campus around. And it seems that her particular disillusionment came from the tradition arguably most responsible for our friendly reputation. By tradition, when Aggies pass each other, they both offer a greeting of “Howdy!” as they pass by. It never hurts to throw a smile and a nod in for good measure.

But my young friend had discovered that as she walked across campus, she was rarely if ever met with a “Howdy.” It was her experience that few people even made eye contact, and those that did rarely did anything more than eak out a strained smile as they walked faster to avoid what was apparently an uncomfortable silence.

I sat somewhat stunned by her story. She was, at least in my opinion, a very beautiful woman. I found it very difficult to believe that anyone would speed up to get past her, and I would have thought half the campus would be dying to say “Howdy” to a woman of such stature.

But as I pressed her further for details of her encounters on campus, I found that she was most likely glaring at people as they walked by. So anyone unfortunate enough to make eye contact with her was met with the look of death.

We often expect people to live up to our expectations, especially when they are members of a particular group. I’m an Aggie, a Texan, an American, and a Lutheran, and while I love each of those groups and am proud to be a member of each of them, I cannot expect other members of those groups to live up to my image of the ideal.

I can’t expect Aggies to always honor those who have gone before and to serve those who follow. I can’t expect Texans to demonstrate the biggest part of Texas is the heart of a Texan. I can’t expect Americans to believe that pride is nothing without dignity and that anger must be tempered with compassion. I can’t expect Lutherans to treasure the gift of a doctrine firmly rooted in the word.

I can’t expect anyone to live up to these ideals. For that matter, I can’t even expect myself to live up to these ideals.

Hmm, weren’t expecting that one, were you…

So what, as an old friend of mine would say, is the point of the object of the matter? If I can’t expect others to live up to my ideal, and I can’t expect myself to live up to the ideal, what is the point of having the ideals at all?

The ideals exist so that you know what you can expect of me.

You can expect me to honor those who have gone before and serve those who follow. You can expect me to show you a heart as big as Texas, a pride that kneels to dignity, a temper bound by compassion, and a faith rooted firmly in the word of God and not in my own reasoning or feeling. These things might not coincide with your ideal, but this is all I can offer. If I don’t live up to these ideals, it is my gift to you, my request to you, that I be held accountable to these standards.

So my advice to my friend was this. You can’t expect to hear howdy from everyone, or even anyone. You can’t expect to say howdy to everyone. But, if you give everyone the right to expect you to say howdy to them, then you are putting the ideal to good use. You are giving your Aggie brothers and sisters the right to hold you accountable to being an Aggie.

This, my friends, is the same for any of those other groups I mentioned. If you think I’m not living up to the ideal of an Aggie, Texan, American, or Lutheran, feel free to hold me accountable. I won’t claim I can change, but at least I’ll gain a new perspective on my failings.

Change is a difficult thing, and this paradigm shift on ideals has a corollary with respect to change. Because my ideal gives you a standard to measure my behavior, if I feel something needs to change, I must be the one to change. I’m the one failing to meet the ideal.

This is a very important corollary, almost so much so that it eclipses the perspective switch on ideals. If something needs to change, I need to change. This means compromise is not mine to demand or request. If there is something wrong, I must change to make it right. No matter how much fault I find in someone else, if there is a broken relationship, I must bend. No matter how easy it is to blame some past circumstance, the fault is mine.

So with my friend, she could have demanded that “Howdy” stickers be handed out across campus and that people drive around in trucks shouting at people who don’t say “Howdy” back as they scream it from the bed, but that would be wrong. That would be demanding that the world change to live up to my expectations, my ideals.

Rather, what should happen is that I change. I should offer a howdy and a smile to everyone, whether they are making eye contact with me or not. Even if, especially if, they don’t say howdy back. It is my gift to them that they can expect me to live up to my expectations of proper Aggie behavior.

phok said on 2004-08-17

“I feel so disillusioned,” she said in a tone of voice somewhere between bitter and frustrated. “Aggies aren’t at all like I imagined they would be.”

That’s just a fluke. Most of ‘em are stupid.

Posted with : Sanguine Maroon