Patiently Dealing with Kids

For every coach, teacher, counselor, and administrator out there who is currently frustrated in dealing with unruly kids.

Remember the story of the weeds in the wheat field? Dealing with today’s kids is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

We are presented with a problem… our schools and teams have evil in them… some kids do bad things. Adolescents can do some really selfish, stupid, and hurtful things to each other and to adults. Sometimes it seems black and white. Usually it isn’t. Most of the time searching for clear judgment is a mess. There are weeds in the garden of our schools and teams and the kids who are weeds are tangled up with the good wheat. Their roots are intertwined.

How do we coaches, teachers, counselors, and administrators deal with this? Do we stand by and do nothing? Do we respond in kind, seeking to root them out with force? Or is there another way?

Let’s start with our own life. If someone does something wrong… or at least something that appears wrong to us. How do we deal with it? Think about the last time you were offended. Think about the last time someone was rude to you… or the last time some person did something that really made you mad.

What most people find very easy to do… is to start to fill in the back story behind it. To think they know why that other person did what they did…whether it is their neighbor, their relative, or whoever. What is very easy to do is to talk about the evil-doer rather than to talk to the evil doer. And very quickly we join together with others who talk about the evil-doer rather than to him or her. Very quickly we distance ourselves from the evil-doer and assume the worst. It makes us feel better. Very quickly we make a plan to root out the evil-doer. It’s very easy to think we know exactly what’s going on, who is evil and who is not? It’s very easy to jump to conclusions. It’s very easy not to check out those conclusions. It’s very easy to demonize those who do wrong … and when we do that we start to assume that the only way to fight a lack of love is with a lack of love. We imagine that punishment and threat of punishment is the only language the evil-doer will understand. It’s easy to do that… it means we don’t have to think about a creative personal response. A response that is informed, creative, and tailored to the specific needs of the evil-doer. It’s far easier just respond in kind.

But how are virtuous coaches, teachers, counselors, and administrators supposed to respond?

The world and our kids are pretty screwed up, and evil still dominates much of our culture. Coaches and teachers of virtue know both of these things. So the perspective they bring is one of living between the times. We live between a transformed (more virtuous) culture of the future, and the one that still persists…..

What matters most is that we know that the weeds will not last forever… so we shouldn’t panic about the weeds.

So where is the turning point in the weeds in the wheat field story? The master says to his worker’s; don’t pull out the weeds…. Why? Because the roots of the weeds and the roots of the wheat are all bound up together. That response is much too violent. If we go in all hoes a swinging against the evil doers, we could do more damage to the school or team culture than good. You have got to take into account the effect that your weed pulling will have on the whole field.

Virtue beckons us to ‘hang on’. Have patience. One of the keys to living between the times as a promoter of virtue… one of the keys to our life of hope in changing our team or school culture… is patience.

Now that doesn’t mean that we do nothing… there is a lot to do in following virtue that isn’t simply pulling out the weeds.

So what does it mean for us to be patient?

We can endure, we can continually apply virtue to the whole field, and we can nurture the wheat, even if the weeds seem to be overwhelming. And we can do so in creative and influential ways. But the message of the weeds in the wheat field story is still patience. Good things take time ……even when time seems to be running out.

Here is a great true story about responding creatively to evil:

Late one night, an elderly woman was rudely awakened by the sound of someone kicking in her bedroom door. She was alone at the time. Before she knew it, the attacker was in the room and shouting at her. She could see his outline as he moved toward her. It just so happened that the woman slept with a handgun under her pillow, just in case something like this ever happened…

Her gun was under the pillow, but she didn’t think she had enough time to retrieve, aim, and fire it before the attacker reached her. So she shouted out the first thing that came to her mind.

She asked, “What time is it?”

“Uhh,” the attacker stopped in his tracks and checked his watch, “it’s about 2:30.”

“Oh,” she said, “mine says 2:45. I hope your watch isn’t broken. When did you set it last?”

They went back and forth like that for several minutes. Eventually, when some of the tension had eased, she asked how he had got into the house.

“I broke the glass on the back door,” he said.

“That’s a shame, because I don’t have money for new glass.”

He talked about his own money problems. They talked for a while after that until the woman felt comfortable enough to ask him to leave. He calmly said he didn’t want to. The woman said firmly, “Okay, I’ll get you some sheets, but you have to make your own bed on the couch downstairs.” He said that was fine. After that, he went and lay down for the night. In the morning, the woman made them breakfast and the would-be attacker went on his way.

Patience is not doing nothing. We tend to think that anything that is not immediate or socially judicious in response to evil, is effectively doing nothing.

It’s not.

Patience is a witness.

Patience is speaking the truth to evil and quite often, it takes time for that message to get heard.