Lessons Learned by a Grandfather

Have you ever heard butterflies' whispered songs? After many years and being a grandpoppy, I'm learning to consider children as young people. They're bright and shiny pennies filling with the wonder of discovering the world. Like butterflies they're just emerging from their dark cocoons. 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 so often at the mall or in a restaurant I hear parents and grandparents telling their children to be quiet. Or 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 faithful 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 being three hours long. It didn't take long for tempers to flare and angry words to pass back and forth between 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 and engineers and traffic officials felt 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. At the same time two-way radios blared and squawked creating an awful din. As an old rusted pick-up truck inched by a little girl of eight or nine leaned out the truck's 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 slow 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 their 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 whishing someone could help you solve an 'oldster' problem in the hearing of young people.

· Another action I follow 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 and listening closely to hear the young person's thoughts, 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. Sometimes listening through the clutter of many topics presented rapid-fire produces a pearl of wisdom.

· My last approach, which I find lead to unrestrained peals of laughter and a confidant for life is to be silly. Talk nonsense talk. It seems to work no matter what the person's age.

· If you're still and listen closely you might hear the whispers of butterflies' songs.

H.F. enjoys spinning outrageous tales based on his real life experiences, flavored by a fertile imagination. In a turbulent time of global conflict, he chooses to be an ardent voice speaking with reason against injustice, violence and hatred. 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.