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If you can’t say something niceee.

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By The Staff

This week we look at Asset #33, Interpersonal Competence. According to the Search-Institute, “Youth are more likely to grow up healthy when they have empathy, sensitivity and friendship-making skills.”

I attended a presentation one time where a local scientist was watching fellow employees as they passed on the side walk to see if people made eye contact or spoke as they came upon each other. The truth was they didn’t even look up from their shoes.

Now if adults aren’t even acknowledging the people they pass on the sidewalk, how can we expect our youth to grow up with these skills? Let’s start with an inward look at how we interact with other people. Can you start a conversation in almost any room and around any topic or are you so painfully quiet that the people around you might think something is wrong or you don’t like them?

I’m from the East Coast and I come from Italian heritage, so I assure you, I have no problem talking and that has rubbed off on our children. However, a friend of mine was painfully quiet as a child and though she and her husband are very friendly, they are pretty quiet people. To counteract that, she put them in preschool two mornings a week to encourage them to engage people they didn’t know.

One of my favorite stories is running into the dad and son at the library and standing right next to the boy and speaking to him several times before he even acknowledged that I was standing there.

So the point I’d like to make here is to provide young people the opportunities to have conversations with people they don’t know well. You may need to help start the conversation by pointing out a similarity of drawing attention to something about the youth that will start them talking.

Jennifer Bartram does a lot of work with youth in the community and apparently that has rubbed off on her two. Bartram stopped at my house one day and she always makes a point to engage our children in conversation. When she left one time, one of the boys said, “Hey Mom, ‘Is Jenn a kid or a grownup?’” My answer was, “She’s a grown up, just a really fun one.” Luckily Bartram accepted the question as the highest compliment, coming from a child.

There’s a book by Ron Clark, called “The 55 Essentials.” This book is one of those great back to basics books that remind us to teach children to look someone in the eye, answer a question with a questions and remember that it is respect that gets respect.

This is the time of year when the sensitivity and empathy skills are easily taught. Look at the many programs like LA Cares, God’s Pantry at the Christian Church and the Alpha Zeta chapter of Beta Sigma Phi that are working hard to help out the less fortunate in and around our region.

When you write your hot lunch check each month, let your students know that some kids receive the same hot lunch for free because they can’t afford it in their family. Many PTOs, Los Alamos National Bank and the Kiwanis club, fundraise throughout the year to provide such opportunities.

When you see the Lion’s Club volunteers ringing the Salvation Army bell, know that the money raised by the efforts of people like Burt Dennis, Kevin Kennedy and Doris Prokop amounts thousands of dollars that stay right in this community for any number of emergencies that come up.

The Pack 20 Cub Scouts rang that bell over the weekend and did quite well in a short period of time. The number of youth ages 16-20 that took the opportunity to drop in a dollar, $5 or more was astounding. Maybe they did it to impress the little guys, who in return beam as if they kept the money themselves or were equally shy about even saying thank you. The giver and the receiver were both adding to their character.

Another local youth group is involved in a book discussion group, compliments of State Farm Insurance, called Start Something. The Tiger Woods Foundation has found a way of giving back to the community with a project called, Start Something. The youth are learning to compliment someone, not gloat when successful and to find a service to do for others. There’s hope to expand this youth opportunity throughout the community in 2009. It hopes to empower youth and demonstrate to them that everyone Can Make a Difference, on a daily basis.

So, by the end of the week, let your friendship, sincerity and empathy be as easy to detect as the bulbous trunk on an elephant.

You probably do make a difference to someone every day; you just may not know it and when someone asks you for some small amount of help with something, try never to let the answer be that you’re too busy.

Lauritzen is the Coordinator of the Assets In Action program and comments are welcome at 661-4846 or at AssetsInAction@att.net. This community approach is sponsored by the Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce and the Juvenile Justice Advisory Board. Learn more at www.AssetsInAction.info or Monday mornings on AM 1490, KRSN.