Center for Social Entrepreneurship

at Middlebury

Reflection Friday with Public Safety Officer Paul Barrett

by Grant Olcott ’19, SE Intern

Officer Paul had to set the record straight. Right after sitting down, he confronted the slips of paper that often make his first impression: citations. They don’t mean what students think. Citations are not a strict sentence to some cruel and unusual punishment. They don’t flag misbehaving students for extra screening at the airport. Rather they — like the public safety officers — are there for the community. Citations don’t say “you’re a bad person,” but rather “we care.” It takes a sense of ease to appreciate this warmth, especially on the recipient’s behalf. Officer Paul sees power in stepping back, trying a little less, and appreciating what is worth struggling over and what’s not.

Excessive punishment is not the way Paul Barrett approaches life. He believes people feel their best when they let things be rather than try and force what they think they want. Restrictive rules that bend everyone to do the same things and have the same values are the opposite of what Officer Paul seeks to instill on campus.

His own story reflects that. He met his wife in high school. Right after a breakup with his big crush, he struck up conversation with a girl in the cafeteria. No intentions. She was just a classmate. Later they found themselves holding hands. Shortly after graduation they married. Officer Paul would never chase someone or insist life be a certain way. Out of pure respect for others, he accepts people for who they are.

Listening, learning, and growing take less effort than one might think. These changes respond better to small and persistent actions by many than to hefty rare endeavors by few. To Officer Paul, sports serve as a reminder that every person in one’s life has an impact. A sport involves challenges and rewards, and most importantly, everyone’s small actions make the biggest difference. When Officer Paul coached little league, he found that always being engaged secured lifelong relationships with the team. Off the field, it’s the same. The simple gestures are the most contagious: opening a door and showing genuine interest in one and other. A community feeling grows when everyone’s small efforts to appreciate each other connect.

Whether at a party, on a date, or within a team, genuineness shines; however, Officer Paul suggests, someone needs to act first to provide the proper structure for ease to flourish. With tough love, Officer Paul fosters the necessary respect and appreciation. By ensuring everyone’s safety, Officer Paul allows students to enjoy themselves with fewer worries. As a sign of gratitude, current and former students packed the audience and showered him with praise for executing crucial role he plays in the community with humility.

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