It's About Them

Young People … Our Greatest Resource

Treasures from the Woodpile

Live oak penSanity is an important thing to maintain. Hobbies and interests can help keep the old creative juices flowing. Whenever I come off an unusually rigorous road trip, I can’t wait to spend a few hours in my shop.

My hobby is turning pens on a lathe. It’s always a thrill to take a plain piece of wood and create something that is both beautiful and functional. And, in many ways, it’s a metaphor for hope. The pen pictured here was made from a plain old piece of live oak branch I trimmed off a tree in my yard several years ago.

What was spared from the fireplace can now create a masterpiece of its own (with a little help): a song, a poem, a letter of encouragement.

A letter? The piece “Three Letters from Teddy” comes to mind. You can find it in a heartbeat on a Google search, I’m sure. It’s a beautiful story of a relationship between a teacher and a struggling student with less than desirable mannerisms and habits. (It has been pretty well established that this story is fiction, but it does make a point.) I won’t spoil the story; check it out for yourself. It tell us what a little bit of encouragement and affirmation can accomplish. That’s the hope part, and hope can be replicated, nourished and encouraged. Many of us (myself included) are testaments to the difference encouragement and affirmation has made and continues to make in our lives. 

It’s about the treasure in the woodpile, awesome potential wrapped up in a slightly soiled disguise.

But aren’t they ALL treasures, really?

James Sutton, Psychologist

April 30, 2007 Posted by | Counselors, Educators, family, Inspirational, Parents, Self-esteem | 1 Comment

Bad News in the News: WHY We Should Care

The April 16th, 2007, event that is being called “The Massacre at Virginia Tech” exposed one more time the degree of devastation one person can create if they are willing to surrender their own life. Words fall pitifully short of explaining it to ourselves, let alone to our children.

“How do we protect our children from the ugly side of human behavior,” someone said to me in recent email. I wish I had an easy answer. I don’t.

This past week I was asked a question that reached to the other side of the issue. I was speaking in Richmond, Virginia, when a high-school teacher approached me during a break.

“I can understand the need to soothe and support students who are traumatically affected by the news of what happened over in the western part of our state,” she shared, “but yesterday I had just the opposite problem. Several of my students said the shootings didn’t bother them at all because they didn’t know any of the victims. How would you respond to a situation like that?”

She studied my face for a answer.

(It is possible, of course, for youngsters to say they aren’t bothered when they are actually bothered a great deal. It’s a defense that buys time to emotionally process events like this one. This might or might not be the case here.)

I suggested she have her students read and discuss John Donne’s short but poignant piece, “No Man is an Island.” It speaks to how we are all interconnected, and how that which affects one ultimately affects all.

“No Man is an Island”

No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.

And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.


 I then thought of another way to explain why we should care. A few years back a young man committed a terrible crime. He killed all the cats belonging to an elderly neighbor woman. As I recall, he made his point more dramatic by piling a dozen or so of their dead bodies in her basement.

The case went to court. The attorney for the boy attempted to minimize the youngster’s actions by explaining the victims were cats–not people.

The judge came in with a tough sentence. “Yes, counselor,” he said to the boy’s lawyer, “I do understand these victims were cats, not people, but you and your client must realize there is a deeper issue here. He committed a crime against decency itself. THAT’S the reason for this sentence.”

That stuck with me. What happened on the campus at Virginia Tech last week was, in addition to everything else, a monumental crime against decency.

Isn’t that reason enough to care?


James Sutton, Psychologist




April 24, 2007 Posted by | Counselors, Educators, family, Inspirational, Parents | 1 Comment

“This Stove is Filthy. I Thought I Told You to Wash the Dishes!”

The title of this blog is an exhortation I distinctly remember coming from my mother. It addresses the subject of finishing what you start.

 We didn’t have a dishwasher at our house when I was a kid; we all took turns. When it was my turn, it always seemed to me that the dirty dishes were in piles and piles and piles on the sink. There were three parts of this task, as outlined by my mother’s expert job description:

1. Wash the dishes, dry them and put them away.

2. Wash and dry the old cast-iron skillet as best you can, then put it on low flame on the stove to remove all moisture so it wouldn’t rust. (It was aslo important to remember to turn the fire OFF.)

3. Clean the top of the stove.

 I was a reasonably bright kid; I knew the drill. I just didn’t like the job. I felt enslaved to the sink as all the best TV programs were pelting the airways. (Dad put up an antenna that could pull in six states, but that’s another story.)

One day I took a shortcut. The stove looked clean enough to me, so I let it go.

I got caught.

“This stove is filthy. I thought I told you to wash the dishes.” (It had occurred to me that the dishes and the stove were separate items and from a kid’s viewpoint it was unfair to combine them but, fortunately, I was bright enough to keep my mouth shut.)

I cleaned the stove. And I don’t remember cutting the dishes job short again. Now, I’m not suggesting I did everything perfectly after that, but I do believe I managed to capture a pretty decent work ethic. For that, I thank a pair of hard-working parents who lived their integrity every day of their lives.

It’s not an automatic thing. If our children are to gain the satisfaction of doing a job well, they have to learn it somewhere. (And isn’t it interesting how a young person with the people skills of smiling, showing respect and delivering their best efforts to the customer can’t stay at the counter at McDonald’s. They’ll be prompted to supervisor before you can blink.)

Willingly doing a job right is not only right, it can translate into cold, hard cash.

In a way, it was unfortunate that our children had a dishwasher when they were growing up. But one day one of Mom’s old tapes ran through my head. It was a bit different, but still the same:

“Son, this mower needs oil. I thought I told you to cut the grass.”

James Sutton, Psychologist

April 14, 2007 Posted by | family, Inspirational, Parents, Self-esteem | 3 Comments

Nurturing the Gift of Creativity

Here’s an interesting quote:

 “Creative minds have always been known to survive any kind of bad training.” Anna Freud 

I’m not certain I agree with Ms Freud in every case . I believe it is entirely possible to stifle and compress the creative capacity of a bright youngster until we discourage them from thinking altogether.

Wen Wenger, creativity specialist and author of The Einstein Factor describes a skill possessed by all creative people; they think in images, not words. (He calls this process Image Streaming; it’s the ability to think at warp speed using images that are faster than words.) Here’s a clear example where speed is a good thing, a VERY good thing. Image Streaming accounts for how some folks can arrive at answers to complex problems, yet be unable to explain the solution. Reason: to explain the solution, they have to slow down to OUR speed.

Dr. Wenger suggests that, if we must slow a creative, Image Streaming youngster down to our speed in order to understand them, we have done that child no service. We have removed precious octane from their exceptional abilities. Not good. 

What is our urgency in understanding them? Why do we need to understand something in order for it to have power and purpose? Is it a youngster’s fault if they can grasp something that we cannot? Wenger suggests that we best support these youngsters by affirming they do have creative talent and by offering ourselves as a resource to help them use it wisely and well.

 James Sutton, Psychologist   

April 9, 2007 Posted by | Counselors, Educators, family, Parents, Self-esteem | Leave a comment

Love So Amazing … (Easter, 2007)

As I contemplate this time of special worship, the Jewish Passover and the Christian Easter, I am reminded of a conflict the English had within the church during the 17th and 18th centuries.

 There were those who wanted to “lift” the style of worship by singing hymns written by their countrymen. The powers that existed in the church at the time felt that the only “proper” songs where those already in the Bible, primarily the Psalms. “Hymns of worship should be drawn from holy scripture, NOT the human condition,” they would insist.

This presented two problems for the worshipers who desired change. First, song services were typically rigid, full of pomp and circumstance, and emotionally flat. (Intrepreted: BORING!)

Second, then as now, there were plenty of folks who believed that Christ suffered and died for the “human condition.” (I happen to agree with them, although I certainly am aware that there are other humane and loving faiths that ascribe to a different doctrine.) 

I am glad the hymnist Issac Watts persevered through the criticism to write over 600 hymns stemming from the “human condition.” One of my favorites concludes with this well-known verse:

 Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small;

Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.

There’s no need to fret over hidden meaning here. I think Mr. Watts meant EXACTLY what he said.


James D. Sutton, Psychologist

April 4, 2007 Posted by | Inspirational | 1 Comment