When I was 11 our whole class year sat a General Knowledge test. They asked us the usual questions about people, politics, news, sport, and current affairs. It was the last question that took us all by surprise: “What is the name of the lady who cleans the school?”
I think we all thought it was a bit of a joke question. We all knew the cleaning lady — we saw her every day. She was short, wore a head scarf and was in her 30s. But none of us actually knew her name. And so I handed in my test leaving the last question blank. As we walked out of the classroom one of my friends asked our teacher if the last question would count toward our mark.
“Absolutely,” said our teacher. “You will meet many people in your life. All are equally significant. Every one of them deserves your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say ‘hello’.”
I’ve never forgotten that lesson. I learned her name was Dorothy. And it’s shaped the way I relate to everyone ever since.