Thursday, October 14, 2004

Thank you, Herr Goethe

Thank you, Herr Goethe

By Bob Garon
TODAY Newspaper
Thursday, October 14, 2004 1:24 AM

I will never forget a quotation from the works of the German poet, writer, philosopher, scientist and all-round genius Johann Wolfgang von Goethe that my best friend in the seminary kept on his desk. It read: “Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and help them to become what they are capable of being.”

I never forgot those words and sought to apply them in my life. They are especially important when working with wounded persons, something I do every day.

When the addict or alcoholic is shattered and laid low by his disease, he has lost all hope of ever being healed. He is so discouraged by the failures in his life that he cannot see any light at all at the end of the dark tunnel that traps him.

One of the most difficult tasks of the therapist is to give him hope and lead him to believe that he can be healed and start a new life. This is more difficult than you might think. The addict is used to failure. He has lived with it for years. He no longer believes he can live a straight life let alone enjoy it. One of them said it well when he shouted: “I cannot live one day without my drugs!”

At the Nazareth Formation House, we spend lots of time urging our residents on, encouraging them to believe in themselves enough to give themselves a chance to be free from the chains of their addiction.

At first, they look at you with a blank stare, and you know they don’t believe a word you’re saying. Still, you don’t stop giving them a vision of what they can become. If you treat them the way they are, they will never change. This is why we do the opposite of the way they were living.

They live a disciplined life with tight schedules. They dress well, keep clean and wear their hair short (no skinheads allowed). They attend Mass everyday, pray the rosary, have regular retreats and show respect for authority and each other. The young ones go to high school in Nazareth, study hard and do well. Those who have not finished college go to the university and must be successful before they leave the program. They must reconcile with their families and repair the damage they caused.

By doing all this, the scared, downtrodden new resident grows, in time, into a confident person who gains enough courage to try to change himself. And when he tries, he succeeds. And when he succeeds, he becomes a new person ready to face the many challenges of life.

Not all of us are called upon to work with badly damaged people, but all of us can do a bit of therapy with the ones we love and those persons the Lord sends into our lives. We can look at their potentials and then find ways and means to encourage them to pick themselves up and move forward. It is amazing what a few well-spoken kind words of encouragement can do to lift a man’s spirit and cause him to keep working to change his life for the better.“Trust men,” said Ralph Waldo Emerson,” and they will be true to you; treat them greatly and they will show themselves great.”


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