29 Sep

Support in a relationship is closely related to tolerance.

I’ll tell you a little story about Max, my younger son. One day when he was twelve he came home from school and slammed the door so hard he cracked the paint. He’s big and strong, but that was still pretty remarkable!

My first inclination was to get in his face and ask what was wrong with him, but I hesitated and decided to wait. His older brother, Ian, came home shortly thereafter and I asked him if he knew what was wrong with Max. Usually Ian would know, but this time he didn’t have any idea. Max is a little bit like the space station, which is large and complicated but requires very little support—it just floats on its own. He rarely has issues.

I had been working on this book for a couple of years by then, so I thought about how to approach Max from the perspective of the bridge.

If something was bothering him so much that he managed to break the door, then he must need some help. I went out and bought a large steak, his favorite, and made a nice dinner. When we all sat down to dinner, I told him that I got a special steak for him. He quietly said, “Thanks.” I felt the ice melting a bit. I said, “The door took quite a beating when you came home.” He blurted out, “My teacher gave me an F on my paper!” and he began to tear up.

I looked at the paper and saw that the teacher had written on the top, “Excellent content, very good understanding of subject, minus 50 pts for spelling.” I looked at the misspelled words and agreed with the criticism—they were simple words and should not have been misspelled. However, I also noticed that Max had only misspelled two words, though he had misspelled them repeatedly. Now I understood why Max was so upset.

This was an advanced English class and his grade was important to him. The next day I talked with the Principal and discovered that the teacher particularly disliked Max and treated him accordingly. I asked another Honors English teacher in the same school to grade the paper, and it received an A. Max requested a transfer to another teacher and it was granted. This event took several days to work out and many people became involved, from the principal to the school board. Max was ultimately instrumental in correcting his teacher’s inappropriate behavior, which had been directed at other students as well.

The lesson here?

My initial tolerance of his otherwise unacceptable behavior and my decision to focus on the root cause of the behavior was the key to giving Max the support he needed. Although I did not appreciate his behavior, I respected his feelings and established a conviction to help him. Max felt this support, and when we were fortunate enough to work out the difficulty, this support became tangible. I was lucky that I had such a good opportunity.

This event established a part of the bridge that became critical during his teenage years, when other important issues developed.

…as they inevitably do.


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