When You Might As Well Talk to a Wall
It’s frustrating to try to talk to someone who simply doesn’t listen.
I’ve known a number of people who seem to have a force field that repels everyone else’s words from entering their heads and maybe causing them to change their thinking. On a few occasions, I’ve wanted to knock them upside the head just to get their attention. However, I refrained. :)
One of those people, however, made me write a book.
When I was teaching high school, there were a number of students who wore me out.
Bottom-line, I wanted them all to succeed. I expect most teachers do. Many students were doing just fine, quite a few only needed a gentle push or better explanations for them to do better, a handful were always going to struggle because of the system.
But the ones who made me want to tear my hair out were those who seemed to have everything they needed to succeed, but appeared to be doing everything possible to sabotage themselves.
One student in particular was good-looking, a star athlete, and (judging from his biting wit) smart. Yet he wasn’t getting good marks in any of his classes. And he was a nuisance in class. Several times, I pulled him out into the hallway to try to talk to him. I was five foot five and he was well over six feet, so I always had to look up, which was in itself a disadvantage. He’d look down at me and say yes and no, and that was it.
I tried everything: encouragement, threats, challenges. Nothing seemed to work. Afterwards, I’d go back to the classroom thinking I might just as well have talked to one of the lockers or to the brick walls as try to reach him.
The good news is that I didn’t give up, and eventually something happened to change our relationship, and he actually became one of my best students.
What did he need? Mostly, I think he needed to know that someone believed in him and that the barrier he’d erected to protect himself by keeping everyone out wasn’t helping. Underneath his belligerent persona was a smart, sensitive, creative person who was afraid to be vulnerable because he was afraid of being hurt or misunderstood.
Later on, I wrote a novel. Not about him, but about someone who is a lot like him.
I had two goals in writing this book.
One was that people like my student would read it and realize they aren’t alone.
The second was that people who know someone like this will realize the need that’s hidden below the prickly exterior and keep on trying to break through.