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Chips off the ol’ block

Chips off the ol’ block

Chips off the ol’ block

Thursday, February 9th, 2012

After five decades of riding elevators in all manner of buildings and institutions, hospitals and apartments, it finally happened. Being mildly claustrophobic, one of my worst fears was realized. In our apartment building I stepped into the elevator, alone. The doors shut behind me. I punched the letter ‘B’ for basement, as I usually do, but the elevator refused to move. The doors refused to open. It just sat there, as if mocking me, daring me to make to go.

I didn’t panic, at first. I hit every button on the console at least sixteen times, lighting it up like a Christmas tree. Nothing happened. I rang the emergency alarm bell, also sixteen times, but nobody responded.

I picked up the emergency phone. Thankfully there was someone on the other end of the line. But they were talking to me from Toronto! They assured me someone would be there soon to get me out. Right! All the way from Toronto, in traffic, and how many Tim Horton’s stops will they make along the way?

I imagined all manner of scenarios: dropping from the ninth floor to the basement and ending up in a clump on the floor; climbing up through the ceiling, like in the movies, and bravely shimmying up the cable to the floor above; being found days later, curled up in the corner of the elevator, with my last will and testament painfully scrawled on the wall with my fingernails. (Talk about dramatic!)

Finally, after much self pity and morbid reflection, I decided enough was enough. I remembered Star Trek. (Strange where your mind goes when it is in panic mode!) I remembered how Mr. Spock, with super human strength could force open the sliding doors of the Enterprise with his bare hands. So I thought I would give it a try.  I pried my not-so-tiny fingers in the crack between the door and the door jamb. Needless to say, there wasn’t much leverage there. But given my level of desperation and my Samson-like strength (right!) I actually got the door to move a few centimetres. I pulled as hard as I could and with much effort, and adrenalin, the door opened wide enough for me to escape! I stepped out into the freedom of the hallway and took a deep breath, with a new air of confidence that my fingers of steel had conquered! Now, when I step into that same elevator, it knows who’s the boss!

Isn’t it interesting how a confined space is nothing to fear when you know that soon enough the doors will open and you will be released from it. But if you cannot open those doors, everything changes. So long as you believe the elevator will do as it is designed to do, take you to the right floor and let you out on cue, then the space within, though confined, is tolerable, even comfortable. But when the elevator fails to move and the doors fail to open, you perceive things quite differently. That once comfortable space is now perceived to be a prison, no longer friendly but threatening.

Perception is a powerful thing. Much of life’s experiences are as much about perception as they are about reality. This principle applies to children.

Little Ashton, one of our smallest Kindergarten students, came into my office one day, head hanging low, shuffling his feet, and with much effort climbed up onto one of the chairs in front of my desk. It seems that Ashton was having a rough day.

I asked him what brought him to my office. With some hesitation he sheepishly said, “I was bad.” Then before I could make any comment or speak to him about his behaviour, he looked at me with pleading eyes and let out a big sigh much bigger than himself, and sweetly added, “But I did my very best.”

Miss Body, our Kindergarten teacher, is very purposeful when working with her students. She is always diligent in distinguishing between character and behaviour. Even when called upon to exact discipline, she will not allow her students to refer to themselves as being bad. She is very careful to make them understand that though she may be disappointed with their actions, they themselves are not bad. Instead they have made some bad choices. Rather than degrading their character she affirms their character, putting the emphasis upon their behaviours, expressing confidence that they have within them the ability to make better choices in the future.

There is a scripture verse which addresses fathers, but just also speaks directly to parents, to educators and to anyone who has influence over children. ”Fathers, do not irritate and provoke your children (do not exasperate them to resentment), but rear them tenderly in the training and discipline and the counsel of the Lord.” Ephesians 6:4

As parents and educators it is so very important to remember that a child’s perception of themselves and their character has the potential to lift them to great heights or discourage them to the point of despair. The words we say to our children need to be weighed carefully. In whatever circumstance, especially that of discipline, make sure that your words carry blessing as well as correction. Always keep in mind that we challenge behaviour, not character.

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