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Opinion & Essays - Jun, 1997 Issue #46

by: Bob Venard
Bonners Ferry, Idaho

In my experience as a counselor and transporting teenagers for emotional growth schools and programs, I was never certain when or what message would reach a particular child. When they came to me, particularly when I was transporting them to a wilderness program, a lock-up or a psychiatric facility, their state of mind was generally agitated and extremely anxious. 

As I saw it, my function was to assist the child to arrive at his or her next destination in as positive a state of mind as possible. I encouraged them to complete their impending stay at the next program to the best of their ability and thereby take a huge step toward going home, where virtually all of them wanted to be. 

How I would get the message across followed no established formula or pattern. This evolved through the give and take of conversation as we drove through hundreds of miles of mountains and deserts. 

One student, whom I’ll call Jane, was particularly depressed after having been expelled from a school for, among other things, carving her forearms with a razor blade. Little I said to her seemed to help. She remained sullen and avoided looking me in the eyes as we drove to a wilderness program in the desert. 

After futilely trying to break through her mental barriers for several hours, I said to her: “You don’t love yourself, do you.” 

“Why do you say that?” she responded. 

“I don’t think someone who loves herself would do what you did to your arms.” 

“No. I guess you’re right,” she answered sadly as she looked down at the bandages. 

After a pause I continued, “I’ll tell you something. If you understand it, and believe it, it could be the most important thing you learn in your life.”

“What?” she asked with a hint of curiosity. 

“The proof of having love is giving it,” I said. “It isn’t a matter of getting someone to love you, but giving love to others and proving that you have it to give.”

Jane said nothing for two or three minutes. Then her eyes lit up, her faced brighten into a smile, and she said with genuine astonishment, “It is, isn’t it! The proof of having love is giving it!”

This brief conversation was a major turning point in Jane’s life. While she would have difficulties ahead, she had found a different way of looking at love and life. Her smile, her new found enthusiasm, and the strength that her conviction added to my own made that moment one of the most rewarding experiences of my work with troubled children. 

Copyright © 1997, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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