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Opinion & Essays - Feb, 2002 Issue #90 

By Lon Woodbury, C.E.P.

Watching the opening ceremonies, I was struck by how perfectly the “The Fire Within” theme of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City this February, describes the children enrolled in emotional growth/therapeutic schools and programs.

Of course this Olympic theme speaks to many aspirations: the Olympic athletes’ burning motivation for accomplishment, all people who are motivated to succeed in any endeavor, the intense desire in people looking for self improvement, and the nation’s response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, are primary examples. The “Fire Within” theme carries the implicit assumption that there is more to humans than their physical body and blind ambition. The fire it describes, and the light that comes from fire, has been a spiritual symbol in all civilizations. It seems also to speak to that part of every human that is beyond purely animal concerns, the spiritual aspect of humans.

The children enrolled in emotional growth/therapeutic schools and programs that are featured in this newsletter have been angry, frustrated, fearful, and/or confused, at themselves, the world, or both. In other words, their “Fire Within” was consuming them, instead of being directed toward the type of constructive accomplishment that is being showcased by the Olympic competitors this month.

Any parent, when watching the Olympic competitors, has the dream at some level that the “Fire Within” in the competitors they see at the games will be reflected in their own child. When they see their child self destructing instead, in a sense the “Fire Within” is consuming itself in their child. The bitter disappointment a parent feels in this case is second only to having to deal with the death of a child.

The solution is timeless. Great men and women throughout history have written about it, and it is demonstrated in the ideals of Olympic competition. This timeless solution is that the child must be taught to control the “Fire Within” through self-discipline, coupled with an awareness that there is a “higher” side to one’s nature, beyond purely physical appetites.

The reputation of a quality school or program basically rests on this conscious understanding. When a child has not responded to either the parents’ or the community’s efforts to teach self- discipline, the job of a residential school or program will be to teach these lessons through structure and consequences, orchestrated by a sensitive and respectful staff to help the child tame and direct their own “Fire Within”. It is only when a child gains the ability to control and direct their “Fire Within” that a school or program can be said to be successful.

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