Saima Qadree, Elementary School Team Lead

It all started with a lawnmower…actually, it started well before then, but my moment of profound realization came with a lawnmower. If you’re wondering what an inanimate object has to do with social awareness and relationship skills, let me enlighten you.

SOCIAL AWARENESS:  Perspective-taking • Empathy • Appreciating diversity • Understanding social and ethical norms for behavior • Recognizing family, school and community supports

RELATIONSHIP SKILLS: Building relationships with diverse individuals/groups • Communicating clearly • Working cooperatively • Resolving conflicts • Seeking help

In the year 2007, my parents, who immigrated to America from Pakistan in 1990, bought their first home in Tampa. Prior to 2007, my parents had always rented so putting down a payment on a home and a 30 year mortgage was a BIG step for them. That was why they spent much time researching, driving (so much driving!), and looking into “good” and “safe” neighborhoods. Finally finding the right home, they took their first step towards home ownership in America. While renting, we’ve always had the fortune of having good neighbors; some that kept to themselves, and some who were very friendly and involved. So with the hopes of finding good neighbors again and with our roots firmly planted in Tampa, we moved into our new home.

That is how we met Matt, a retired Italian American police officer who has been our faithful neighbor along with his wife since 2007. The bond between Matt and my father was immediate and has only strengthened in the last decade. As you can imagine, Matt and my dad look and sound very different but you would never focus on that if you saw them together. You would focus on the smiles, the laughter, the deep discussions about lawn and home maintenance, thoughts on current events, etc. You would not see white or brown, Catholic or Muslim, Italian or Pakistani, police officer or banker; you would see two people, two neighbors, and two friends who support each other day in and day out.

So by now you’re thinking…Saima, what about the darn lawnmower? Well, here goes. My dad absolutely insists on NOT hiring someone to maintain his lawn. Why pay someone for something you can do yourself? Plus, think of all the Vitamin D you get when you’re outside in the 100 degree Florida heat mowing your lawn (insert sarcastic tone here). He and I don’t see eye-to-eye on this issue but it is a futile battle that I have now wisely given up on. Matt is also of the same mindset so they borrow each other’s lawn equipment all the time and cut each other’s yards on occasion if it looks like one of them hasn’t gotten to it yet.

A few weeks ago, my dad’s old lawnmower mowed its last blade of grass and moved on to lawnmower heaven. He couldn’t rig it with any parts or get it back up and running like he had many times before. So finally, he bought a new lawnmower. A week later, he injured his eye while working in the garage. It put him out of commission from doing yard work for a couple of weeks. I was planning to visit over the weekend to cut the grass and support with chores around the house. A couple of days before the weekend, I stopped over after work to see my mom. My dad wasn’t going to be home for another couple of hours but I saw Matt mowing our lawn with the new lawnmower. The flood of relief and gratitude was immediate. This meant I would not have to brace myself for the hot Saturday of yard work. I pulled up and parked my car. He stopped the engine to say hello. I thanked him for his help and he muttered no problem. I could tell I was keeping him from his work so I went inside. A bit later, the doorbell rang. Matt wanted to put the lawnmower back in the garage so I opened the garage door and let him in. I thanked him again and he asked about my dad. He was concerned because he hadn’t seen him for a few days. Usually they are both out and about in the yard in the evening. I told him about my dad’s eye injury and said that’s why the lawn had not really been kept up with and I thanked him again for all of his help and told him my parents were lucky to have him as a neighbor.

What he said next while leaning on the lawnmower in our garage is the whole reason I chose to share this story. He told me it was no problem at all. He told me that he sees my dad as his brother and that he would do anything for his brother, so mowing the lawn was no big deal. He told me how lucky he was to have us as neighbors and that we could always come to him for anything and he knew that my dad would say the same thing about him (which is wholeheartedly true). Plus, he got to use the new lawnmower, which was apparently a pretty exciting thing. No comment on that.

You’ll forgive me if this sounds sappy, but I felt something shift inside of me that moment. We are living in a world where we don’t always see the good in others and we let our external appearances define how we treat each other. We sometimes put blinders on when it comes to our social awareness.  If we learn to move past our appearances like my dad and Matt did almost instantly, we can truly have a world where we take each other’s perspective, act with empathy, appreciate diversity, build strong relationships, and work cooperatively. And so, just like that, a lawnmower reinforced what I knew about social awareness and relationship skills. And for you, dear reader, my wish is that you too encounter a situation that reaffirms your faith in humanity and shows you that we are more alike than we are different!