Friday Focus: Adding grace to the conversation

Dan White smiling in a blue suit
UAF photo by JR Ancheta
Chancellor Dan White

March 25, 2022

— By Dan White, chancellor

I am surrounded by smart people throughout the university — faculty, staff and students. What a privilege that is. And they are not just smart. They care, they are passionate, and they are diverse. That’s why I love working here.

It has been the same since I started as a faculty and continues on until today. Throughout my career at UAF I have been surrounded by smart, caring and passionate people. Everyone has not always agreed but all were smart, cared, and without exception, passionate.

Henry Kissinger once said something like he had never seen such fights as he saw in the academy. He attributed this to the fact that even while there was so little to fight about at the University, there were just a whole lot of people willing to fight.

How does that comport with my own observation of smarts, caring, and passion as hallmarks to all those in the academy? Shouldn’t everyone get along great? Are there some strings attached to these attributes? I actually think it is just those things — smarts, caring and passion — that lead to what Kissinger observed. People care deeply, and are passionate about what they do. And they are smart so they are convinced of their facts and good at poking holes in yours. So are smarts, caring, and passion a bad mix? I don’t think so, but I would say that that in my experience they are all made better by mixing in a little grace.

When I typed “grace” into my browser, some of the following came up:

  1. simple elegance or refinement of movement

synonyms; elegance, stylishness, poise, finesse, agility, courtesy, politeness, civility, decorum, decency, respect, thoughtfulness, diplomacy

  1. a period officially allowed for payment of a sum due or for compliance with a law or condition.

If we could mix some grace into every conversation and every decision, what a great thing that would be. What an opportunity to turn smarts, caring and passion into something that produces a positive outcome for everyone.

I especially like the second definition, commonly referred to as the “grace period.” Giving everyone involved a grace period in which to react or respond. Just the gift of time to prepare a thoughtful response. The gift of not having to respond immediately.

I can think of many times in my career when grace was extended to me. One case I remember clearly was 15 years ago when I was INE Director. One of the faculty offered me grace and I have never forgotten it. That faculty extended me a grace period with no expiration date. I am grateful for that to this day.

I think it is critical for us each to go about our work and think about ways to extend grace. Then if we have the opportunity to offer grace we can take it.  Offer it freely and in abundance. What a gift to be able to give.

Friday Focus is a column written by a different member of UAF's leadership team every week.