…the parched land shall become a pool, and the thirsty lands springs of water…(Isaiah 35:7)

Light Thoughts

I Would Learn the Healer’s Art

By Rex Goode


youngsriver As the news media continues to report the events that prompted me to write “Dark Thoughts,” I’ve wondered just how much they can keep reporting the same things over and over and continuing to call them things like “breaking news” and “new information.” I suppose that is the news game, but not tactics I greatly admire.

I’ve had much more that I’ve wanted to say about the tragic shooting at Reynolds High School almost two weeks ago. I don’t have any inside knowledge; I have no new facts to reveal; I am as much in the dark about how things unfolded as anyone. Yet there is still a lot going on in side of me that pulls at my heart over it.Last week, I wrote, “I wish I knew how to create an environment where young people with dark thoughts feel like they can talk them over with people who can help them.”

I have that same wish still and I may have some ideas, mostly based on my own experience as a youth who had his own secrets and fears about communicating with adults. Some of my ideas are also based on my experiences in the field of social work and youth callings.

I was a  leader in the Boy Scouts of America for several years and have also served as a Young Men President. I did my internship toward my Bachelor’s Degree in Social work in two different facilities for adolescent sex offenders and at a social services agencies co-facilitating groups for teens and families. I work as a behavior consultant and life skills training for developmentally disabled adults. I teach families how to communicate better with their disabled adult children.

My time in an adolescent sex offender lock-down gave me a starkly contrasted experience when it comes to communicating with youth. I have experienced both the usually upright and responsible boy scouts and the dangerous, misleading, and sometimes remorseless youths that have harmed others. Probably the first thing I learned was that not every boy scout epitomizes the Scout Oath and Law and not every adolescent sex offender is a monster.

The experiences I had with both groups were enriching and instructional for me. At the sex offender unit, I was merely an intern working on a four-year degree. I wasn’t qualified to do therapy. I also had no training in guarding. My assignments were simple.

  • Help with homework. The detention center operated its own school and I was there to help inmates do their assignments.
  • Help with polygraph tests. Every inmate had to complete a polygraph test before being considered for moving into a different, less-restrictive facility. This involved recalling and recording every instance of abuse they perpetrated in detail. It was an experience that I will never forget. As a survivor of child abuse perpetrated against me by an adolescent male, you can imagine how hard it was for me to interview an offender to help him remember every victim and detail.
  • Listen. Inmates could request some one-on-one time with me, under visual observation. Being neither therapist nor custody staff, I had no power and even less agenda. I’d usually stand out in the little basketball court with a young offender and talk while he shot baskets. These sessions often followed on the heals of some kind of incident where he got angry at another inmate or member of the custody staff. Even though a youth would sometimes complain to me about the treatment he was getting, it was easy to make it clear that I could only listen and empathize. I couldn’t fix anything. Once I was warned that I should not let them manipulate me out there. I just laughed and said, “What could they possibly get out of me?”

I also relished my time with Scouting. I spent a lot of time under the stars next to campfires with young men. There, I found my most important role to be that of a good listener. I learned a lot about each one and it helped me be a better leader. It even helped avoid some trouble by knowing when things were brewing in families and connecting them with support.

Today, as a behavior consultant, it is a safe assumption that acting out behavior by developmentally disabled adults is somehow related to not feeling heard. I would bet that every person reading this has felt the frustration of having something to say and everyone else too focused on their own thoughts to really listen. Yet, even though we’ve all felt the sting of being misunderstood, very few of us make the effort to understand before we give our opinions.

From childhood and continuing through today, I’ve had many times when I’ve needed to say something to someone with the resources to help me only to be disappointed by the lack of listening skills that people possess. We aren’t raised to listen. We’re raised to talk. We often only listen barely enough to hear enough to prepare our next statement.

You wouldn’t find any of the above on a curriculum vitae (CV) of an expert on human communication and interpersonal relationships. I’m not qualified in that way, but I hope that my life experiences will urge you to consider that I might know a thing or two about it.

The hymn I referenced in “Dark Thoughts”—”Lord, I Would Follow Thee (LDS Hymnal #220)” has the following passage:

I would be my brother’s keeper;
I would learn the healer’s art.
To the wounded and the weary
I would show a gentle heart.
I would be my brother’s keeper.
Lord, I would follow thee. (text by Susan Evans McCloud)

My advice for anyone who wants to help create an environment where young people feel they can talk to adults is:

  • Listen far more than you talk. The Bible says, “He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him (Proverbs 18:13).” I’ve had bishops where it was a struggle just to say what I came to say. They were full of advice about the things I hadn’t come to talk about.
  • When you’re at church, talk casually to the young people that are there. Don’t just stick to your friends of your own age. As a faith community, we are all in this together and young people need us the most. What I’ve always liked about the Boy Scouts of America is the merit badge system. It’s an opportunity for skilled adults to mentor and teach young people. Unfortunately, we too often approach scout meetings like they are merit badge mills where the emphasis on mentoring is replaced by getting it over with fast.
  • No matter how outlandish it may sound, take it seriously. Don’t overreact and be very measured in how you respond, but never minimize a young person’s feelings. To them, what they are feeling is very real.
  • Don’t flatter. As I detailed in “Dark Thoughts,” it can be very discouraging when you’re worried something is wrong with you, you try to talk it over with an adult, and all they do is compliment you on how great you are. For some, it will drive their dark thoughts deeper. Being positive has its place, and a very important place at that, but not until the youth feels like he has been heard and believed.
  • Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Unless you are qualified to do so, don’t try to handle things like suicide threats and violence against others by yourself. You want to be the kind of person a young person can share these things with, but you don’t want to find out that you kept it to yourself and someone was hurt because you thought you could handle it.
  • Constantly let young people know that there is nothing so terrible that they can’t talk to you about it. This is so important. Many of the things we say about other people in front of young people will confirm for them that we aren’t trustworthy, especially when the thing they need to talk about is the thing you so unkindly railed against in their presence.

Today, at church, we talked about “Spiritual Whirlwinds” by Elder Neil L. Anderson. Because the scheduled teacher wasn’t there, we took turns reading passages from it and discussed them. I somehow got the portion of Elder Anderson’s talk that was about same-sex attraction. I was touched by his words:

“Of special concern to us should be those who struggle with same-sex attraction. It is a whirlwind of enormous velocity. I want to express my love and admiration for those who courageously confront this trial of faith and stay true to the commandments of God! But everyone, independent of his or her decisions and beliefs, deserves our kindness and consideration.”

My mind went back to my youth when I was dealing with that particular whirlwind of “enormous velocity.” There was not a soul I could talk to about it, even though I was engaging in some very self-destructive behavior. How could I ever work up the courage to say that I was attracted to males in an environment where homosexuality was routinely spoken of in the most unflattering and unkind terms?

I eventually got so scared that I was going to be discovered and rejected that I stopped going to church altogether. There wasn’t one adult that I hadn’t heard make an unkind remark about gay people.

When I came back to church after a few years and well after I got married and started a family, I dreaded going to priesthood meeting where I would often have to endure the jokes, condemnations, and meanness about men who are attracted to men.  Sadly, to hide my shame, I’d laugh too.

Ever since opening up about myself about twenty years ago, I’ve noticed a decline in these kinds of comments. In the fourteen years I’ve lived in my current home, I’ve only heard one snide remark about gay people. Whenever the topic comes up, people are very kind.

I hope this trend holds for young people in the Church and those who lead them. I hope that no matter what a young person is feeling, he feels like he can talk to his leaders about it. I hope most of all that the things we say and do let young people know that no matter how dark their thoughts, when they talk to us, they will get light and love in return.

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2 Responses to “Light Thoughts”

  1. Art Cornett said:

    Rex, thank you for sharing both your heart and your guts. I find myself wanting to say I wish I had had someone like you in my life when I was a young boy and teenager. I felt so alone and filled with shame and self-loathing and would have loved having someone to talk with who cared and could be trusted. But the past is past and can only be learned from but not changed. I will do what I can to not make disparaging comments or “jokes” about anyone and I will encourage others to do the same.
    Thank you for continuing to grow and change and for sharing your experiences with us.

  2. Rex Goode said:

    Thank you, Art.

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