Benjamin Franklin “Your net worth to the world is usually determined by what remains after your bad habits are subtracted from your good ones.”
The common age for drinking in America is nine years old. Drugs are usually not started until eleven. So as I worked with at risk youth, the skill to change old habits became paramount, especially when we visited other homes and Churches.
One time we made a list of new habits we would like to install in ourselves. Each habit revealed the old habits that had us respond immediately in dysfunctional forms.
Here is the list: Keep my promises; finish what I start; learn new things; walk away from fighting; apologize when I am wrong; stand up to a bully; stop drinking and using; have a purpose; pray more; and having courage to say what I think.
“You know, I can say I am going to change but just saying what I want to do is not going to change me,” says one of the youth.
This was true so we talked about how we change. We decided to role play common scenes.
These became cathartic as we worked out some of the more painful experiences that called for new responses.
“I wake up at night and hear the adults shouting at each other. They sound drunk. What do I do?”
“He pulled a knife on me and called me a loser. What do I do?”
“The cool guys at school start pushing a little guy around and calling him names. What do I do?
“My brother brings drugs into our home and I get punished for it. They are yelling at me and I can’t stand it. They start punching me. What do I do?”
As the youth played out these scenes, emotions spilled over. We had to act it out more than once to elicit new responses from the youth. Anger, hurt, and justification kept pouring out of the youth.
Finally, one of the young men says “I have to change. Everything I usually do just gets me more in trouble. I don’t want to have to go to juvie again. I don’t want to have to go to school with a bruised face. I don’t want to hate myself for being so weak that all I can do is fight blindly.”
With that, we acted out the scenes a few more time. Confidence increased as we found new ways to respond.
Later, we talked about the effectiveness of this exercise. The youth told me that it became easier to not just respond in the old way of fighting or drinking or running away but they needed to be reminded a lot.
So we made it a part of our regular exercise to act out some of the new ways we wanted to response. It cemented us as a group as we realized how much we needed mutual support. It also focused our prayers on who we want to become.
One of the youth offered this prayer: Holy Creator, keep us changing and walking in beauty.”