What' I'd Like to Tell You - If I Could

>> Wednesday, 21 June 2006

I was testing the microphone in the high school auditorium where I was going to conduct a workshop for teens, when a voice nearby asked, “Do you need anything? Is there anything I can do to help?”

I fully expected to see a custodian, vice-principal, counsellor or any other adult who might have been assigned to oversee my needs for the program I was doing for students. Instead, there stood a handsome, muscular, well-dressed young student. “Hi!” he said, “I’m Rob Ballen.”

“Nice to meet you, Rob,” I said. “I’m Bettie Youngs, and I’ve heard many good things about you – including that you have been elected student-council president three years in a row. The first thing I noticed as I drove onto the school grounds today was the billboard that read, ‘Welcome, Dr. Youngs.’ By the way, I heard you were responsible for putting up the billboard and I want you to know it’s a nice touch and made me feel welcome!”

“Oh, it was nothing,” Rob replied.

“Well, it was meaningful to me, and yes, there is a way for you to help. A good friend of mine, Helice Bridges, has developed a little exercise that’s sort of like an award ceremony. A blue ribbon with the words ‘Who You Are Makes A Difference’ is used to acknowledge a person for something they’ve said or done that has made a difference to you. In my workshop with your class today, I’ll be calling on a number of students, but I need a volunteer to start it off. Would you mind if I called on you to come forward first?”

“Oh, that’d be fun!” he said, without hesitating or asking anything more about exactly what it was he would be expected to do.

“Good,” I said. “I’ll count on you then!”

The students filed into the auditorium in various states of anticipation and expectations. “Sometimes we don’t express what’s really in out hearts,” I began. “This is particularly true when it comes to telling others, ‘Thanks for being there for me, for making a difference in my life.’ But it’s important that we do this. First, it lets a person know that what he did was significant to you, Second, it gives the person the courage and motivation to do it again, to you and to others along the way.

“We needn’t wait for some major event to happen. We can acknowledge others when they accomplish a worthwhile goal, as well as for their acts of kindness, for acting out of integrity – especially when it’s not always popular to do so. I’ll like to show you a simple exercise that can help you acknowledge someone for making a difference to you in some way. I’ll like to ask you to pay close attention to your feelings as we go through this process. I need a volunteer from the audience. Who would like to…” Rob’s arm shot in the air. “…volunteer? Okay, Rob, would you come up, please?” His classmates hooted and cheered and whistled good-naturedly. He was obviously well-liked.

Rob came up and stood beside me. The top of my head just barely reached his shoulders. His presence with me in front of them caused his classmates to giggle nervously and fidget with their belongings. After all, here was their handsome classmate standing beside a visitor who held a microphone in her hand, and who had the ability to call on them in front of their peers. It was their school, however, and they held the power to pay attention in a noisy manner or pay attention in a respectful manner. Power danced between them and me in perfect balance.

“Rob,” I said, “I would like you to know that the wonderful welcome that your classmates gave me when I arrived at school today made feel warmed, honoured and welcomed. Since you were the once responsible for organizing it, I would like to thank you for being so thoughtful.” My words were met with claps, whistles and cheers. Even so, I knew they were happy it was Robby up there and not them. Now only quiet chatter should be heard among a few friends. “As you can see, I’m holding a blue ribbon with the words, ‘Who You Are Makes A Difference.’ Your leadership actions made a difference to me. Thank you. Because you have acknowledged me, in a sense, you have asked that I acknowledge you. Best of all, your actions caused me to want to connect with you and your classmates in a meaningful way. May I pin this ribbon on your shirt?” Little gasps, nervous giggles – and a few good-natured and mild-mannered catcalls – arose from the audience of adolescents.

Rob looked first to me and the glanced over the faces in the audience. “Yeah, sure,” he acquiesced. Smiling from ear-to-ear, he leaned down so I could reach the pocket of his shirt and pin the ribbon on it. All eyes were now upon Rob, all motions stilled by my audience’s nervousness. This was far too close for comfort in the minds of these young people still learning the social rules of human touch. Classmates poked each other to distract themselves from getting too close to the experience, no doubt relieved this was happening to Rob and not to them.

I continued the ceremony. “When you take this shirt off, Rob,” I said, amplifying my voice a bit because of the hoots and howls these “risqué” words brought, “I would like you to remove the ribbon and place it on the mirror in your bathroom, so that as you get ready for school each morning, you will be reminded that your thoughtfulness was genuinely appreciated. Your caring actions were important to me.”

I backed up a few steps. Now acting from the emotional energy of a speaker, rather than from the personal one-on-one I had just used, I looked at Rob and asked, “How does it feel to be acknowledged in this way?”

“Oh,” he said sincerely. “It feels good. I’m not sure if anyone has ever told me ‘thank you,’ for anything.” He became solemn and reflective. Shaking his head, he quietly repeated, “I don’t think anyone has told me ‘thank you.’” It didn’t seem appropriate for me to examine that further, although I’m sure the audience “got it.” Here was a young man who had on occasion done many considerate things for others. Yet, Rob hadn’t been told – or he didn’t hear – their thanks.

“Rob,” I continued, “now that we can all see how this exercise works, I’d like for you to call someone up from the audience and acknowledge that person for making a difference to you.

“Oh,” said Rob, macho posturing to impress, “that’ll be easy. Chad, get your booty up here.” Chad, his best friend, bounded up. Once again, the classmates cheered and clapped. The two guys playfully punched each other a time or two, then stood at attention in front of me. Standing next to Rob to oversee and assist him with the ceremony, I nodded for him to begin.

“Hey, bud!” Rob began in a voice filled with spunk and spirit, “I’ve got a blue ribbon here, as you can see, with the words ‘Who You Are Makes A Difference.’” He turned to me and mouthed the words, “Now what do I say?”

“I would like to tell you how you made a difference to me,” I instructed.

“Yeah, I’d like to tell you how important you are to me,” he mimicked and then added, “And why.”

I observed, but said nothing.

“Why you’re important to me,” he began, looking first at Chad, then the floor, then at the ceiling, then at me, “is because…” He stopped, cleared his throat and tried again. “Why you’re important to me is because,” and once again he looked first at Chad, then the floor, then at the ceiling, then towards the back of the room and back again at me, “is because…” He stopped, cleared his throat, sniffled, and this time Mr. Football used the hand of his “golden arm” to clear away the cloud of tears blurring his vision. The audience watched in disbelief, and perhaps in fear. Oh, no. Was it possible that their hero, the pillar, was going to cry?

“Oh Chad, ol’ bud,” Rob began again, “I’ve never told you, I never really wanted you to know… but you… you… saved my life. I don’t know if you ever knew it, and if you did, you didn’t let on. Remember the time last year when I came to your house at 11:30 at night, and you knew I had been drinking? You took my car keys from me, and though we argued over it, you refused to give them to me. You knew that I couldn’t drive, and you called my mother, told her that I had fallen asleep and asked if I could spend the night at your house. I never told you, but my parents had gotten in a huge fight that night, and my dad said he was leaving. He had filed for divorce. I was so mad and hurt, and I thought, ‘What will my friends at school thing? How can I tell them that my parents are divorcing when my mother is the PTA president and my dad always helps drive us to the football games? Now he’s leaving my mother and moving away. My class isn’t going to want me to be class president,’ and…” Rob covered his face with one hand, then letting out a big sigh, continued. “You saved my life, Chad.” The silence of the audience blared louder than any words could. Robby, now looking into the eyes of a very shocked Chad, continued, “I was going to drive off old Highway 164 that night. You saved my life.” Chad reached over and pulled him into his arms. The two boys hugged each other for what seemed like a very long time.

The audience sat stunned, aghast that their hero had once entertained such thoughts – or was even capable of them.

Now just another teenaged, Rob, with shoulders slumped, took a seat.

Chad, still dealing with all this, stood motionless beside me.

“Chad,” I said softly. “Here’s a blue ribbon for you. I’d like you to acknowledge someone who has made a difference in your life.”

It was a fairly sedate Chad who called upon Mr. Hudson.

“I’d like to call up the shop teacher,” he said. A bewildered-looking teacher in the second row of the bleachers got up and came forward, taking his place beside Chad.

“Ah, you know that I gave you a hard time all last semester in shop class,” Chad stammered. All the students in the audience were all but holding their breath. Though I didn’t know the situation at that time, they knew just who the shop teacher was. “I guess I better begin by saying, I’m sorry,” Chad said. “It’s just that…” he stopped, as though choosing his words carefully. It caught me by surprise, too, when Chad continued with the words, “Dad, it just seemed to me that you’d touch the other guys on the arms or shoulders, or help them with their projects, but you didn’t do that for me. It made me so jealous. You stopped touching me when I was in the seventh grade. I thought, ‘Why do these kids deserve his touch and I don’t?’ Anyway, I gave you a rough time and I’m sorry. I admire you because you are such a good teacher and all the kids like you and think you’re great. I do, too, Dad. I want to give you this blue ribbon because I think you’re the best teacher ever. And you’re a great dad, too. And I love you. Can I pin this on you?”

It was a meek and tearful father who received the blue ribbon.

“It’s your turn, Mr. Hudson,” I said.

“I’ll call Suzee Merril,” said the best teacher at the school.

“Suzee,” he said, “as you can see, I’m holding a blue ribbon with the words ‘Who You Are Makes A Difference.’ I would like to tell you how you made a difference to me. You were the first girl to take shop class, and that was a courageous thing to do. I’d like to…”

Suzee called up Bob, her brother. And her brother called up Tammy.

“Tammy,” Bob said, “as you can see, I’m holding a blue ribbon with the words ‘Who You Are Makes A Difference.’ I would like to tell you how you made a difference to me. I’m no Einstein, but here I am, finally a senior, and it’s because of you. For the last three years, I got up and came to school only because I knew you’d be here. Though we’ve broken up and aren’t dating anymore,” he paused to look to Rebecca, his new girlfriend, sitting nearby with his class ring around her neck and his coat draped around her shoulders, “I know that I’d have dropped out of school, maybe worse, if it hadn’t been for you…” Though he noticed, he seemed unfazed by his new girlfriend’s scowl and look of absolute dejection. He looked again at Tammy and repeated, “If it hadn’t been for you.”

Tammy stood next to him, her arms tightly hugging her chest. This was difficult enough, loving him still – yet watching as he now dated another classmate was even more painful. Tammy didn’t want anyone else. She had hoped to marry her Bob. She was so hurt that she couldn’t lift her eyes to his, not even after his kind words. When he said, “You were the most important thing that ever happened to me,” her arms unwrapped and followed her hands to her face, where the heavy black mascara and eyeliner she wore now streamed down. She buried her face in her hands and sobbed uncontrollably. The only boy she had ever loved had confessed her importance – humbly and genuinely. It left her visibly shaken emotionally, but more, her entire body was literally shaking. He pinned the blue ribbon on her collar, looked at her tenderly and said through his own tear-filled eyes, “Thank you for being there for me. I will always love you.”

It was a good place to stop; what I had wanted to teach, to communicate, had been accomplished.

Bettie B. Youngs,
Excerpted from Gifts of the Heart

~ Taste Berries for Teens

0 voices:

Post a Comment

  © Blogger template Simple n' Sweet by Ourblogtemplates.com 2009

Back to TOP