Uncertainty is on just about everyone’s mind. So, what I learned first and foremost is to listen. Because as students talked more — they often either worked out their own uncertainties, or at the very least were better able to understand them.
I did a lot of listening and it seemed to help.
Many uncertainties, of course, you can’t answer or fix. Will classes be online next semester? Will there be a recession, and how long will it last? There were hundreds of questions I could not answer. So I didn’t, but I did respond.
When I could not answer a question, I would, at minimum, interpret each question back and then I would express that I did not have an answer to that question, but it would indeed ultimately be answered over time. At times, just interpreting helped.
Finally, and most surprising to me, I learned the following two things.
- I learned that some uncertainties I could answer.
Will the pandemic end? Yes, for certain. Will it cause all law schools to cancel classes? No it will not. People had fears that were indeed not going to last forever. Each time I heard one, it made me all the more glad I was doing the call.
2. I learned that when things seem least certain, it gets a lot easier for someone to focus on what is important.
Are you grandparents well? Are you graduating as planned? Simple questions about important things with positive answers brought a great deal of relief. You could hear it in their responses.
I am the last person to claim I have all of the answers. For some of their questions, I had none. But I would say that just listening mattered. Give students some forum to be listened to. And to the extent possible, end on something important. That often seemed to make all the difference.
If you are curious, this is how we opened up the ability for some to get in touch with me.
I'll end with this, repetitiously, because I think it matters to us all. In times of the most uncertainty, what is most important to us becomes the most clear.