I was starting to freak out a bit. You see, for my 39th 29th birthday, I decided to cut my long locks short. Students would give me compliments. I went through a series of perm, straight, bangs, transformations and then students started to cut their hair short. A-lai-wah?
A coincidence? Ta-mai la? But the reason why I started to get a little a-scared is the girls would respond to me, noticing their freshly shorn tresses by saying, “like you.” Now I realize this is probably just their way of explaining that their hair was now like mine and nothing else, but. But! These students, dare I say it, like me. Maybe even look up to me. Do you know what I mean? These just weren’t casual students I had taught who were being nice. These are students who really like me, for some strange reason. It also didn’t help that one of the girls who got her hair cut was teased for wanting to be like me.
Nevertheless, I think when we see one woman do something different, break out of the – in this case, traditional long hair mode – we get a little braver. (Not that I was the first or anything.)We think, hey, that looks alright. One of my younger students told me that my hair (not unlike her hair now) was so many things: cute, sexy, free, etc. My eyes got wide as I thought about how she thought my hair cut transformed me into a possibility of personality styles.
These hair raising, rising, and rinsing experiences made me think about the influences we have on each other. As a teacher, I take this pretty seriously. Even if I’m just a throw-away easy to replace English teacher in Thailand, it doesn’t change the fact that I wish to be a positive role model for my students.
Now while it might be easy to be fashionable (555), it’s not as easy to stand up straight, watch what I say and try to treat everyone with respect and kindness. It’s easy to let students slip into bad behavior. It’s work to pay attention and do something about it. Dirty looks work, you know. I had to do that with one of my 14 year olds, and she shrunk under my stare.
And before the next class, she gave me a wai. I didn’t know if she was being sarcastic because the problem I was having with her was she was turning into one of those ‘mean girls’ but she knew that I knew, and there is something to be said about that.
As if to illustrate the point of influences further, my friend told me a story about a coworker that involved him beating a dog with an umbrella. I was shocked. You think you know someone; you work with them and to hear that this person beat a dog was horrible and repulsive. Then my friend said, “Nah, I just made that up. But you see how your opinion of that person changed?”
Yeah. This umbrella point was taken.
So many sitcoms, movie plots and real life situations have been plagued by hearing what someone’s says and taking it at full face value. Or by not confronting a person with questions. I don’t know why we do this. But I take special note of my friends who are very careful in what they say about another person. Or friends who tell me a false story to immediately make a point. To be honest, it’s an example that I think carries great weight to children old enough to understand it.
Now you might think, Wow Lani, what a leap from hair to dog but I say, it’s not really much of a leap. We influence the people around us, the folks we interact with, and the ones we don’t think are watching or noticing us. We do it by our actions and words. We can sabotage someone’s reputation so quickly it’s horrific, but we can help someone with a simple smile, word of kindness and maybe even a new haircut.