If you are a responsible adult and have been in an organization of any kind involving kids, you know there is always at least one problem child. Not always, but usually this child wants attention and the kind of attention they receive could make a difference in whether they wind up in honors class or in prison. We can make a difference, as illustrated in a true story that I want to share with you.
A few weeks ago I heard from Jim Wahmann who lives in Hunter, N.Y., and he first wrote me a 3 1/2-page letter in response to a column I had written titled, “There Are No Winners In A School Shooting.” In his letter, he discussed a number of causes for the ethical and moral breakdown in our society. It was one of the most insightful letters I have ever received and with his permission, I reproduced it and sent copies to a number of prominent people who are in a position to make a difference.
When he responded to my request, he wrote me another letter and told about a “token” problem child by the name of Eddie. His story is not unique, but it just might make a difference for you if you are dealing with one or more problem children in your life.
“His name was Eddie and at 12 years old, he was a handful. He was always doing the opposite of what he was supposed to do, always vying for attention, always playing the ‘clown’ and being a distraction. Of course, I would always start (in my mind) by thinking how it was his home life to blame. If he were properly disciplined at home, I wouldn’t have to take any such measures in Sunday school. After all, I only have him one hour a week. Why should it be my responsibility to teach him right from wrong?
“Well, thank God, I was never very much worried about what others thought of how I did (or do) things, because I never hesitated to punish the boy in any way I felt fit the specific circumstances at the time. But the most important thing to note here is that he reminded me a lot of myself at his age. I had gone the route of causing a nuisance and paid the price. And because of that I was able to explain why I was punishing him and describe to him the ‘longterm’ effects of his behavior.
“I did this over and over again during the course of that Sunday School year, explaining what he could look forward to in the years to come if he continued to misbehave, pay little attention to anyone and disrupt everything he became involved in. I told him that it would get him no where fast!
“So on the last day of that year, when you say your ‘goodbyes’ and ‘have a great summer” and ‘good luck next year,’ this Eddie came up to me and said, ‘Mr. Wahmann, I wanted to thank you for all you have taught me about my bad habits and terrible ways. You have opened my eyes to what kind of person I was being and gave me a picture of where that would get me. But you also gave me an opportunity to take a good look at myself and I believe I can be a better person if I try. So thanks.’
“Now we’re talking about a 12-year-old boy saying this, Jim. I don’t know about you, but I have never heard someone that age talk like that either before or since that day. So I have to believe that happened for a reason and that is what came to my mind as I read your letter asking permission to reproduce the letter I wrote you of my views and opinions regarding our society today. It tells me that as uncomfortable as the thought may be, the bottom line is that we are all responsible.
“Face it, most of the people we help go by largely unnoticed and we rarely get to see it right in front of our face like I did with young Eddie!”
What this says to me is that we should never give up on people even when the situation seems to be hopeless.
(Editor’s Note: Jim Davidson is a motivational speaker and syndicated columnist. He may be contacted at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway AR 72034.)