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October 7, 2013 — 1 Comment

Some years back my mom gave me the scrapbook she kept of my childhood. It is chock-full of nostalgic mementos like baby congratulation cards, recipes for formula in the handwriting of the general practitioner who delivered me, vocabulary lists at intervals during the toddler stage, my first attempts at drawing, etc. Somewhere between notes mom made about my 6th birthday party (she baked an orange cake, with orange frosting, decorated with animal crackers) and a second grade composition about Columbus Day, I found a hand-written note to a school friend (whose name is altered slightly) that reads:

Beverly N_____,

I do love you, but I don’t know why your brother hits me so much.

Linda K. B.

I suppose the fact that this note is now part of the scrapbook means it never made its way into Beverly’s hands. Too bad, for me. If Beverly didn’t know about her brother’s behavior, she couldn’t try to get him to back off, so I probably had to continue dealing with his negative attention. And suffer the psychological damage of being the target of such aggression, which if left unchecked – you never can tell — might have given rise to the need for professional help.

While I’m quite sure the counseling profession was well established back in the day, I wasn’t personally aware of anyone who was a client of such services. The sum of my knowledge on the matter was gleaned from skits that poked fun of the therapist’s couch on comedy shows hosted by funnymen like Jack Benny and Red Skelton. I’m afraid their satire would keep me from taking the profession seriously for many years…

888To fidgety Linda, seated on the edge of a large leather couch: “Linda, you might be wondering why you’re in my office. Do you know why you’ve come here today?”

Linda, shaking her head in response to the therapist: “Huh-uh.”

“I got a referral from your classroom teacher, Miss Young, regarding a note. A note which was supposedly found by your mother and relayed to Miss Young recently. It contained a statement about a particular schoolmate hitting you. Do you recall writing this note?”

[Am I in trouble or something?] “I don’t know.”

“Well, according to your mother and Miss Young, it appears to be your handwriting. Do you think you might have written the note?”

“Maybe.”

“Okay. For now, let’s just pretend that you did write it. Do you know Beverly N_____?”

“Yes.”

“Tell me about her.”

“She is in Mrs. Fisher’s second grade class and we jump rope and play jacks at recess.”

“Anything else?”

“Well, we walk home from school together — until we get to the drug store on Oliver. Then she turns right to go to her house and I go left to get to mine.”

“So you would say that you and Beverly are friends?”

[This man is weird — like I would walk home with a stranger. Duh.] “Uh-huh.”

“Okay. Thank you, Linda. You seem a little nervous. Why don’t you go ahead and lean back. Just relax.”

[It’s 9:00 in the morning. I’m not sleepy. Why would I want to lie down? Hmm, does he realize there’s a cob web up by the ceiling next to that bookcase?…]

“That’s better. Now, Linda, the note also mentions Beverly’s brother. Tell me about him.”

[What’s to say? …the little hooligan.] “He sits behind me in Miss Young’s class.”

“And when does the hitting occur?”

[I wonder if a spider is up there behind the bookcase…] “Huh?”

“I asked when this boy is most likely to hit you.”

“You never know. When he feels like it, I guess.”

“I see. Can you give me an example?”

“Well, yesterday I took a new Archies comic book to school in my school bag and he wanted to see it. But then the bell rang and it was time for class to begin and I told him, ‘Not now,’ and he hit me.”

“You didn’t tell him no, you just said not now?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Interesting. Can you think of another example?”

“Last week Miss Young asked for someone to volunteer to clean the blackboard. I raised my hand. And so did lots of other kids, but she picked me. And then he hit me.”

“How does it make you feel when he hits you?”

[Is this guy for real?] “It hurts. He punches hard. Just like my brother, when I tattle on him.”

“Do you ever feel like punching him back?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t want to get in trouble. Besides, I know he can hit even harder than that, and I don’t want to get punched again.”

“Does it seem fair that he hits you, Linda?”

“Not really.”

“But you don’t tell the teacher?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t want to get him in trouble either.”

“So do you feel like you deserve to get hit?”

[Where does this guy come up with these questions?] “Nope. That’s what the note was for. I thought if Beverly knew what her little brother was doing, she might be able to get him to quit hitting me.”

“So you were trying to solve your problem without involving any adults.”

“I guess so.”

“That can be healthy, you know.”

“What?”

“Trying to solve your problems yourself.”

“Oh.”

“Just remember that some problems will be too big for you or Beverly N_____ to handle on your own. And that your parents and teachers are there to help you with those. But if you keep trying to figure out how you can solve things on your own, you’ll succeed a lot of the time. Beverly’s brother sounds like he might have a little trouble with jealousy. Maybe you and Beverly could include him in something fun and he might not be as jealous of your friendship with her.”

“Never thought of that.”

“A little kindness can go a long way. Oh, and one more thing. When you get much older, Linda, there will be this thing called the internet. I know this probably sounds like something on Buck Rogers, but people really will be able to communicate instantly — simply by touching little keys that are sort of like a typewriter, only smaller and faster, on little electronic devices they can hold in their hands — sort of like Dick Tracy’s watch. The messages will be sent through a combination of communication towers and satellites and will be able to reach people all over the world. Amazing, isn’t it?”

“Wow.”

“But as wonderful as this sounds, there will be danger in it, too.”

“What kind of danger?”

“Sometimes people will “hit” other people with words in their messages. The words will have the power to hurt every bit as much as the punches you got in Miss Young’s classroom. Probably more. The people who send those messages might be jealous, or they might be angry, or maybe just frustrated or afraid, and they’ll use harsh and judgmental words without realizing who they are hurting, because — unlike your classmate — they won’t actually be able to see who they’re hurting. Some of them will call people mean names for holding certain values or beliefs, never realizing you happen to fall in this category, or that someone you care about falls in this category. When this happens, just remember what you did when you were young: you wrote a note and tried to see if you could get the hitting to stop.”

“Will it work?”

“It’ll be worth a try.”

And so she did.

And then she clicked “Publish.”

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