“Friends are those rare people who ask how we are, and then wait to hear the answer.” – Stephen R. Covey.
At Ahead of the Game, we strongly believe that if you take the time to listen to young people (observing their actions), then you can learn a lot from them. During the first sessions of any program I run I like to greet each individual, look them in their eyes, and learn their name. I do this in hopes of setting the foundation of our relationship – letting them know I am sincerely there for them and that I care. A lot of times, for lack of confidence (and other reasons), when greeting young men in the program for the first time, they do not look me in the eye. By the end of the program we hope to change that, and are usually successful in doing so.
I remember a specific situation during the early sessions at a school years ago where I noticed a young man who was very enthusiastic about being part of the program. With this group, we played basketball for 45 min and then went to the classroom for 60 min of mentoring (discussions and activities). He wasn’t a very athletic individual (he was the type who ran with his arms straight), but he was excited to be there. Even though he wasn’t the finest of athletes, his teammates passed him the ball and treated him like he was.
I wanted to encourage him and thank him for coming, so at the end of the first session I went up to him, looked him in the eye and told him that I was really glad to have him, the other kids seemed to look up to him, and I think he is a great leader. The biggest smile came across his face, nearly cracking his skull in half! With a tear in his eye, he vigorously nodded his head and shook my hand.
The following week he was not around. The week after I asked him why he wasn’t present the week before and told him that we missed him. In response, he showed me over a dozen cut marks on his wrist. We went for a 15-minute walk and talk around the school. He opened up to me, sharing that he felt that he was the cause of a lot of negativity at home, including violent outbursts by his father. In addition, he felt pressured to get high marks at school, and felt like he was without support, and quality friends to talk to.
I explained to him that teachers care about him, and if he opened up to them as he did with me, they would support with any challenges he faced. I connected him with the guidance department and the school administration for support. Week after week his situation got better, the redness of the scars faded and his smile got bigger. The school provided him with the support that both he and his family needed to get through a difficult time and build strong, healthy relationships.
I recently read an article outlining that recently 2 suicides occurred during the 2016-2017 school year at the University of Guelph. When things like this happen at places where support is so readily available it makes me wonder: is it possible to feel alone when you have so many others around you?
I think it is if you do not feel that anyone is listening.
HAVE YOU MASTERED THE ART OF LISTENING?