Excerpt from

“So THAT’S why you’re like that !”

Chapter Six
Pg 71 – 73

All Behaviors can Change:
The Application of Understanding

It was nearly twenty years ago, but I still remember an article I read that was written by the late syndicated columnist, Sydney Harris. He was relating an incident he and his friend had at a local newspaper stand and it went something like this: He said he and his friend walked up to the paper stand where they patiently waited for service. Finally, as they were approached by the attendant, they were addressed in almost an accusatory tone, “What do ya’ want?

The man with Sydney Harris pleasantly responded, “I would like to have a copy of the London Times, please.

Just a minute,” came the abrupt response. The man returned a minute later, slapped the paper on the counter and snapped, “That’s six bits.

The friend offered the money to the attendant and received a cold, “Hold on,” as he turned to make change. Another moment or two later, the attendant returned, and slid the change across the counter without a word.

“Thank you,” the friend directed to the man who had already turned around and moved away. He recovered his change from the counter and turned to leave. As Sydney Harris and his friend moved away from the stand, Sydney stopped his friend and questioned, “Wait a minute, I’ve got to know something. Do you come here everyday for a newspaper?”

“Yes,” replied his surprised friend. “Every day. Why?”

“I have got to know something; does that man treat you like that everyday?”

“Yes,” his friend answered, “I’m afraid he does.”

“Then now I really need to know, how can you take that? He was just rude and hateful, and you even said, ‘Thank you’ for that!? Doesn’t the way he treats you make you angry?”

The friend was surprised, as if the thought never crossed his mind, but he stared at his friend as if the answer was obvious. His response was classic, and the perfect validation of the fact that all behaviors are choices that come from within. “We all make our choices in life.” he responded. “So I don’t want him to decide what kind of day I’m going to have.”

* * * * *

Once upon a time, there was a young school teacher who had a gift for being able to understand, accept, and resolve Interpersonal conflict. She knew the basics. She understood that all people come from their own unique and different world of experiences. She knew that all people are simply doing the best they can for what they know and understand. She accepted that because behaviors and perceptions were based on each person’s unique experiences, then all people would naturally hold different perceptions, levels of knowledge, and degrees of understanding. She would not assume that people were acting in an unnatural way merely because their choices in behaviors differed from her own.

Even for one so young, this teacher knew that all people made choices based on their own understanding of the world to that moment in their lives; an understanding that came through their unique experiences, perceptions, and attitudes. She knew that when people didn’t at first get what they wanted, they would attempt to control to get what they wanted. She understood the difference between behaviors and needs (see Behavior Cycle). She knew that All Behaviors are Learned; All Behaviors are Choices; and All Behaviors can Change. She accepted that happiness was a choice we all make for ourselves. She had accepted that people do not, as a rule, choose to be hateful, mean, unkind, or offensive to others merely for the express purpose of being hateful, mean, unkind, or offensive to others. She accepted that beyond every behavior she had ever witnessed on this planet, there was a human need that motivated that behavior.

Through her patience, willingness, and commitment to looking past her own immediate wants she learned she could better recognize the missing needs in others. With practice, she learned that she could develop the gift of looking past negative behaviors to recognize what need motivated the behavior. In doing so, she knew she would be able to help others get some of what they needed. (The survival need; the need for love and acceptance; the need to be fulfilled, affirmed and really listened to; the need for fun; the need for the freedom to make creative, responsible decisions for ourselves.) And she accepted the fact that when she worked to meet the needs of others, then others would in turn go out of their way to meet her needs—and they would do it eagerly and without even realizing they were doing it!

This caring young school teacher had developed a gift for entering the world of others. Armed with an understanding of how we choose behaviors and an acceptance that our basic needs are why we choose behaviors, she knew that she possessed the tools to resolve conflict. She was convinced that any success she might have in reaching and teaching children would be in direct proportion to the degree by which she could assist children in resolving their conflicts… and she could prove it.

She had just moved into the area and had accepted a position in a nearby school district to teach in a rural elementary school. She would be the sixth teacher in this particular fifth grade class classroom that year - and it was only January. At the time of her hiring, of course, she wasn’t aware that so many teachers had already been assigned to this class… and had subsequently walked out. This didn’t count the many substitute teachers that had been called in to “contain this class between teachers.” (A phrase later used by the Assistant Superintendent in the retelling of this story.)

The other teachers in the building saw so many other teachers come and go before her, they didn’t even bother to learn her name. They were so sure that she would not last that they referred to her only as “The Teacher down the Hall.”

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