There is a tire swing hanging thirty feet down from a tree near the creek in my backyard. In order to use it, I have to stand on a bridge spanning the creek, snare the swing with a twelve-foot hook, and pull it to me. Then—while I stand on the bridge—I load kids on the swing and push them out over the creek. If I push hard enough, the swing arcs farther out over the creek, but on its return it moves increasingly over the bridge and out over the creek on the other side of the bridge. During the moments that the swing moves rapidly over the bridge it could easily knock someone on the bridge off into the creek, so I diligently keep people off the bridge when using the tire swing.
Years ago I was swinging two grandchildren on the tire, and it was getting far out over the creek at one end of the arc, while sweeping quickly and well past the bridge on the other end. I told one of the kids, Jack—who was not swinging—to stay on the path and away from the bridge, so he would be safe. Of course, when I turned for an instant to pay attention to something, Jack began to walk across the bridge. When I turned back to the swing—less than two seconds later—I could see that the tire, loaded with two children, was about one second from knocking Jack off the bridge, where he would fall to the rocky creek bed and possibly be seriously injured.
Under normal circumstances, I strongly advocate the benefits of teaching children in a calm and casual way. In some cases, however, that is simply not possible. Had I calmly explained to Jack the possibility of injury, he would have been struck hard, breaking bones and injuring internal organs—including his brain—both from the tire blow and the fall to the creek bed. I had no time for that so I rapidly reached out, grabbed his collar, and jerked him off the ground to a place of safety.
Jack had been oblivious to the swing, so all he knew was that I’d violently changed his intended course. For a moment, his face expressed considerable irritation, but then I kneeled down and explained to him—face to face—why I had acted as I did. Potentially, his life had been saved. His expression changed considerably, and he hugged me and thanked me.
People sorely need to be loved—a lot and usually before any instruction is given. Without that love, they become afraid, and then they don’t listen or learn well.
There are occasions, however, when people are making choices so serious and so imminently destructive in an irreversible way, that we have to use Straight Talk. We need to speak with enough intellectual directness and emotional volume to overcome the deafness of pain and fear. A lifetime of wisdom is required to know when such times are warranted.
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