Monday, May 26, 2014

Don't Send Your Ducks to Eagle School !

Once upon a time, deep in the forest, the animals decided they should do something meaningful to address the problems of the world.  After a couple days of committee meetings, they agreed to establish a school so that they could learn from one another, develop their talents and train to acquire new skills.

They decided to adopt a very activity-oriented curriculum that included running, climbing, swimming and flying.  They reached consensus that, to develop to their fullest potential, everyone would sign up for all the classes and not just those that seemed interesting or those they thought they might be good at.

The first course offered was swimming and the ducks, of course, were excellent in class, better, in fact, than the instructors.  They did ok when the flying course was offered, however, they were a little clumsy and could not achieve the speed or display the grace of the hawks.  The ducks made passing grades in flying but did not perform up to standards when they had to take running and climbing class.  Because they ran and climbed so slowly and in an awkward manner, they were required to stay after school and put in extra work.  All this excessive running caused their webbed feet to be so badly worn that, when they got back in the water, they were only average swimmers.  Other animals thought that average was ok but the ducks were now very frustrated about their swimming, climbing and running grades.

The rabbits signed up for running classes first and, in a short amount of time, they proved to be far and away the leaders, scoring the best grades.  However, when they lined up for swimming class, many of them exhibited symptoms of anxiety.  Some of them developed stomachaches and didn’t come back on the second day of classes.  Others complained of leg cramps because it was difficult for them to keep their legs moving correctly with all that wet fur.  It was all they could do at times to keep from sinking.  Needless to say, all the rabbits got Fs in flying class.

The squirrels were very excited on the day that climbing was on the agenda.  But when that ended, they were extremely frustrated with the flying instructor who insisted that they start from the ground up rather than their preference to start from the tree tops down, where they thought they at least had a chance.  In fact, the parents of the young squirrels considered taking them out of classes altogether.  Like the rabbits, they were pretty good at running, though they only ran for short distances and never in a straight line.  They also weren’t crazy about swimming and skipped class whenever they could.

Several of the other animals didn’t participate or perform very well in the classes.  Nobody wanted to be around the snakes so everyone was relieved when they didn’t show up to register for class.  The butterflies were challenging because they couldn’t stay focused and just fluttered around all day in some arbitrary flight pattern.  The raccoons and bats at first didn’t even know about the school and, when they inquired about night classes, they were told they weren’t available.

With all these difficulties, the eagles proved to be the biggest problem because they did not want to conform to any of the curriculum.  Instead, they just wanted to soar above everything and everyone and they did the running, aquatics and climbing their own way, refusing all instruction.  They were actually pretty good at all the activities but lost points because they didn’t work very well as team members.

By now the school was in daily chaos with everyone frustrated.  Some stopped coming to school altogether while others came just to socialize but didn’t try very hard.  The foxes decided to withdraw their kits completely and "den-school" them.  No one felt very successful or useful; what had started out as a great idea had deteriorated into ineffectiveness.

Finally, the owl, who had been observing all of this from his branch high above the school, flew down with a recommendation.  He said he thought the idea of the school was a good one, but in his wisdom, he knew that not all the animals could be good at all the same things.  He encouraged them to keep the school open but to give all the animals the chance to develop the talents they were most adept at and then let them use these talents to make their school the very best school in all the forest.

Adapted from John Maxwell and Charles Swindoll.  Embellished by Jim Campain, 5/14/14.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Making Amends

Last week I was speaking with a mental health provider on our campus and he told me about a conversation he was having with a student and the topic turned to the exercise of making amends to those we have offended.  Most of us will initially associate the making of amends with AA.  Step # 8 of AA says--Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.  We were talking about this in relationship to young people we have worked with and the surprising and disappointingly high number of them who had no awareness of this concept.  It wasn’t as if they were opposed to it, rather our reaction was generated by their bewilderment of what it meant.  Many have simply indicated that it was a notion that was foreign to them.

 I used to work with a child psychiatrist whose mantra was “there are many things that must be learned but often are not taught.”  The making of amends fits this category.  Making amends is the restoration of justice in relationships that our behavior may have broken or damaged.  It is stronger than an apology but that simple act is a good place to begin.  However, it is unlikely that I will apologize if I first haven’t been taught empathy.  And it seems that too many people have grown up subjected to a scolding, punishment, shaming and mistreatment for a behavioral deed but have not been exposed to the redemptive experience of making amends.  They get tough instead of tender-hearted.  Making amends is actually a tremendously freeing experience.  It allows us to be accountable and responsible and then move on.  Guilt is an emotion associated with doing something wrong or making a mistake, but shame makes us feel like we are the mistake.  If we get stuck there, it can taint our interactions with others and stymie development.