By H. F. Parkhurst
After many years and being a grandfather, I'm learning to consider children as young people. They're bright and shiny pennies filled with the wonder of discovering the world. They rush this way and that as though they're on wheels and are filled with a never-ending supply of questions. For them there are no mountains they cannot climb, no oceans they cannot sail and no stars they cannot reach.
But all too often at the mall or in a restaurant I hear parents and grandparents telling their children to be quiet. They say don't do this, stop bothering me, or why should I listen to you? You're a kid and don't know anything. When I hear these words I'm reminded of the story about the truck.
Not too long ago, an eighteen-wheeler tank truck was stuck in a tunnel under the river between New Jersey and New York City. As you can imagine, traffic backed up for miles in the busy tunnel and a normal half hour trip to the city ended up being three hours long. It didn't take long for tempers to flare and angry words to pass back and forth between the drivers.
Expert engineers and traffic officials rushed to the scene to solve the problem. Try as they might, no one could think of a solution. Engineers and traffic officials were baffled. The long truck couldn't be backed out and cutting down the truck wouldn't work either because the truck carried flammable chemicals.
A single lane of slow moving traffic passed the wedged truck and the frustrated officials and engineers. Dozens of officers directed irate drivers around the truck and the swirling lights on the police and emergency cars strobed and flashed incessantly. As an old rusted pick-up truck inched by, a little girl of eight or nine leaned out the truck window.
"Let the air out of the tires," she yelled in a loud voice. "Let the air out of the tires." And then she sat back as the old truck putted away.
One of the engineers heard her and with the help of several traffic officials, let the air out of the trucks tires. Fifteen minutes later the truck made its way through the tunnel and out the other side. A seemingly impossible situation found a solution because someone listened to a young person.
Young people continue to amaze and delight me with their insights into a wide range of issues, now that I learned to listen. It doesn't seem to make a difference if they're seven, seventeen or thirty-seven. Each one offers perspectives I find unique and intriguing. I can't wait to talk to the next one.
As one of those dreaded 'oldsters', there are a few challenges that must be overcome when conversing with young people. Some learned lessons worth considering occur to me.
- The first action I find necessary to follow is to invite conversation without expecting or asking for it. This is the most difficult but could be as simple as wishing someone could help you solve an 'oldster' problem.
- Another action involves talking to each young person as thought they are an adult. No baby talk and no condescending looks or words are used.
- Next and perhaps the key, is listening closely to hear the young person's thoughts, and responding with an honest expression of positive acknowledgement about what they said. Nothing seems to end a conversation quicker than scoffing unless done in obvious jest, or negative feedback. A worthwhile conversation and one that will lead to others tends to be an open-minded exchange of ideas no matter how bazaar or radical they may seem.
H.F. Parkhurst enjoys spinning outrageous tales based on his real life experiences, flavored by a fertile imagination. Living with his wife in Florida, he currently works on two novel series, first Adventure/Fantasy and second Action/Adventure. For more information visit www.hfparkhurst.com. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com