My wife’s terrific parents were in from Austin for a weekend visit. Late Saturday night there was a strong knock on the door. 11:30 at night? Uh oh. To my surprise it was my Korean lady neighbor, a single parent, “Sam”. She was in a panic. “John Sommer, please help me! The neighbor boys are trying to get my 13 year old son to leave with them. I want them to leave, and they are ignoring me. Please help.” I knew these little knuckleheads. They were likely the ones who, a few months back, had written “rape” on Sam’s back door. They weren’t gang bangers, but a group of three bullies. So, mad as a rabid dog, I tucked my “doggie knocker” (bicycling protection stick) into the back of my belt and started to head out the door. Before I got out the door, my kindly professor-ish father in law told me he wanted to come with me. As I was intending to perform a major intimidation to these teenage bullies, I really didn’t want a kindly gentleman to nurture these boys. Regardless, I couldn’t tell Claude he couldn’t come with me.
So, we charged across the street and stomped into Sam’s kitchen where the three little tough guys were hovered over Sam’s son, still insisting he leave with them. I immediately had the upper hand as I angrily burst into the room confronting them, scaring the hell out of them. I threateningly ordered them out of the house with the dire warning to them that Sam had better never have to come get me again. Tails between their legs, they slinked out the back door where Claude was stationed. As they crept out the back door, Claude advised them individually, “Be kind”. Be Kind?! Oh man. I had a vision of the Terminator (me) generously allowing three kids to depart after deciding to not dismember them. As they leave, Mother Theresa (Claude) gives them a blessing. I was displeased that Claude’s “kind” advice was watering down my imminent threat. “Be kind”. *sigh* I never told anyone, but I was unenthusiastic about the interference.
It was many months later that I realized the depth of Claude’s advice. What he was telling the boys was exactly correct: be kind. If that principle was applied in this bully-boy example, they, in being kind, would immediately leave at Sam’s request. In being kind they would not have written “rape” on her door.
I have since taken Claude’s simple advice into the realm of my counseling. It applies to a majority of circumstances. Recently I began working with a very troubled married couple. In their many angry moments, they were being extremely verbally critical of each other. Can they resolve their numerous issues? We shall see. Still, even in angry moments, what if they applied the principle: be kind. Being kind in our anger means we temper what we say, we are not cruel, and are not inappropriate. An endless barrage of criticism is not kind.
A teenage senior was in trouble for vandalizing someone’s car. His rationalization was that the other kid “was a smart ass”. We applied the principle here. What would you do if you were being kind? We used this principle in his treatment. With his consent, we agreed on his rather simple treatment plan: be kind. He went out of his way at talking to lonely-looking kids, offered rides to some students in need, sat in the cafeteria with the nerdy kids, etc. As he graduated, he said he was liberated from his misplaced anger.
It seems that the advice offered by my father in law is almost too simple, but nothing could be further than the truth. At times, being kind is tremendously difficult. Nevertheless, should we not hold ourselves to a high standard of conduct regardless of anyone else? Perhaps we can be a positive model for others by our proper behavior of being kind.