Tuesday, April 17
As they say, don’t try this at home.
The two teenage boys marched into my office. One had a torn shirt and the other’s reddened eye would be black by tomorrow.
They were both breathing like mad bulls from their fistfight by the high school lockers.
They were now my charges in my charge in the principal’s office. I shut the door, arranged three chairs and made sure I sat between them.
These students were not regular customers on discipline. Both were strong farm boys from hard-working families in our rural community.
I wondered what had precipitated this fight. If I had to bet, it had something to do with a girl. Or maybe a subtle insult. Or maybe someone egging it on and public peer pressure not allowing.
Regardless, they’d been in a fight and were in trouble. This was long before the days of zero tolerance on fights. There would be a price to pay.
Each one shared his side of the story assuring me it was the other’s fault. Slowly, their anger subsided and their fists unclenched.
Now, I don’t recommend this and I’d never do it on a girl fight. (Those hair-pulling screaming brouhahas are an animal of another species. ) I got up from my chair. “Guys, I need to check with Mrs. Simmons on one thing. Y’all talk about your problem and I’ll be back to finish this up.”
I closed the door behind me and stood in the hallway. It was quiet behind the door but I resisted the urge to re-enter.
Carolyn Simmons, who’d seen the fighters escorted into the office shook her head. “Are they working it out in there?”
I put my ear to the door. “Sounds like it to me.” The boy’s voices were muffled but in normal tones.
I waited about ten minutes and went back in, putting a stack of useless papers on my desk.
“Mr. Iles, I believe we’re going to be able to work this out.”
The other man-child nodded his head in sober agreement. “It was stupid.”
I don’t remember what their punishment was. I’ll ask them next time I see one of them at a T-ball ballgame.
They shook hands and promised this was the end of it. The embarrassed look in their eyes and their good track record assured me that this was over.
It’s been twenty years since I sat in that principal’s chair. I tried this approach from time to time with young men and never had two of them re-kindle a fight afterwards.
It’s a reminder that nearly every problem can be worked out when two people sit down in private and talk about it.
That’s why I love the book of Philemon.
Ol’ Paul (as my father-in-law affectionately calls the Apostle) pulls out all the stops to get two estranged men together.
A runaway slave-thief with the tongue-twisting name of Onesimus. And his wronged owner Philemon.
Philemon. I’ve heard Baptist preachers mangle his name for half a century. I believe it’s Fu-LEE-mon.
However you say their names and their two-thousand year old story, it’s one worth reading. It’s the shortest book in the Bible (tied with Jude at a soaking-wet 25 verses) but is a masterpiece on human relations and solving conflict.
Take a few moments today and read it.
You can even shut the principal’s office door while you do.
I’d like to hear from you.
What is your favorite story of solved conflict with communication?
What Philemon verse strikes you in the heart?
Mine is verse 12 , where “Ol’ Paul” says, “I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart.”