Young man’s compassion shines through

Welcome to the third of a three-part vignette. At the first session, we met Shirl and Brian, parents of Austin and Elise. They provided an overview of the circumstances leading the school principal and guidance counselor to suggest family counseling and anger management counseling for Austin. He reportedly was involved in a school cafeteria incident that threatened to go outside. Austin stood up in defense of a girl on the receiving end of verbal abuse by other students. The others didn’t take well or back off from Austin’s challenge for them to stop.

To a degree not clearly measured, the parents came to the session alone. Neither demonstrated strong resistance to being with me in the counseling forum. They did, however, reference another incident involving Austin while on vacation. Their description of that incident was that Austin stood up for a girl being bullied/tormented by two girls. This historical episode spoke volumes. Yet, silently, I needed to hear from Austin. Surprisingly, Elise, his older sister, came with Austin and his parents. I recognized the children. Integrating Elise immediately into the treatment proved to define Austin’s character. Kind of a proverbial chip off the old block.

She spoke eloquently with a bright affect. She spoke of strong, healthy sounding family values. She offered a cursory look into the lens of parents who have faced adversity as a mixed race couple. While she defended Austin’s actions in both incidents, she held to a strong personal position as his loving older sister. She wasn’t his enforcer. She acted like a proud parent.

Today, I wanted attention toward Austin. Thanks for being here today. I’m sure you’d rather be elsewhere. Let’s explore whether you really need anger management treatment. I’d like permission to offer my assessment to the school principal. All four nodded in agreement. So, Austin, what gives? I hear that you have at least twice stood up for someone being bullied. Is that accurate?

Elise looked at him.

“Austin, talk to the man.”

“Sir, you’re right. I’d rather not be here. Not for any disrespect for you. What my sister told you is true. We are a tight family. We value love and kindness. My parents have shared stories of dating and marriage. As a mixed-race couple, educated and hard-working, they were crapped on — sorry! They got spit on, cursed out and were called terrible racial names. You get the picture? They easily could have struck back. They have a huge library of books related to a history of men and women who stood up for truth. They’ve preached non-violence. By the way, I wasn’t going to go outside to fight that kid in school. That’s what he wanted, not me.”

Say more, please, Austin. Did you family talk about the school incident with you?

“Yes, after hearing my side, they didn’t yell, get bent out of shape or even lecture me. My dad shook his head and told me that I faced a harsh reality of life. Some people are down on themselves and, therefore, act out. They torment and abuse others. That’s wrong. That’s not how we’ve been taught to feel good about ourselves.”

Austin, how did you really feel at the precise moment before you stood up for the girl at school?

“I was upset that this girl was taking their crap.”

Wouldn’t it have been easier to do nothing and let adults step in?

“I didn’t see them doing anything. I’m not bothered by them. If the monitor didn’t either hear or see fit to get involved, that’s her stuff. I’m a laid back dude. I don’t like much negative attention.”

Did the girl at school say anything to you? Actually, even include the girl on the beach. I understand that you spoke with her privately.

“I did.”

Austin stopped and took a deep breath. Are you willing to share some of your private conversation.

“I guess so. The girl on the beach thanked me. She said that her extra weight causes others to name-call her. That’s what I heard from the girls who were riding hard on her. She cried and was down on herself. I listened. She got up to walk to her cabin where her family was staying. She thanked me again and gave me a hug. I looked into her eyes and said loudly, you are perfect just the way you are. That’s what I said to the girl at school, too.”

I sent a favorable report to Austin’s school. Standing up as he did to the bully denoted controlled emotions. I’m glad there are Austins, Elises and parents like Shirl and Brian in our world.

Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.

Marshall Greenstein, a Cassadaga resident, holds a master’s degree in marriage and family counseling and is a licensed marriage and family counselor and a licensed mental health counselor in New York state. He has regular office hours at Hutton and Greenstein Counseling Services, 501 E. Third St., Suite 2B, Jamestown, 484-7756. For more information or to suggest topics, email editorial@observertoday.com.