Kids aren’t adults, of course, but they watch the adults in their lives. Sometimes they even watch them too closely. Our children (and grandchildren) tend to copy the attitudes and behaviors they see right in front of them. How we handle disappointment and conflict with others does matter. We can become bitter or better, and the outcomes easily can reach across generations.
Here’s a story I first became aware of a number of years ago. It makes a beautiful point of how frustration often can be channeled into something very positive. (I shared this story once in a keynote address and was pleased when it was verified by an attendee that had graduated from Berry College.)
Today, Berry College, Mount Berry, Georgia, rests on 26,500 acres of small-town environment not far from Atlanta. It has grown since its humble beginnings in 1902, the fruition of a dream of its founder, educator Martha Berry.
Berry School was built to serve needy youngsters, and Martha Berry was said to have the “touch” for turning nothing into something. She knew her cause was a good one, so she was never shy when it came to advocating for poor, but promising, young people.
When presented with an opportunity to meet Henry Ford at an important function, Martha Berry did not hesitate to ask him for $1 million for her school’s endowment. (Hey, if you’re going to ask … ASK!)
History has it that Mr. Ford reached into his pocket and presented her with a dime.
A dime? Yes; one of the richest men in the country donated a dime to Martha Berry’s school.
At this point, put yourself in her shoes. What would you have thought or said to what seemed such an insult? What would you have done? (At very least, I would have shuffled him to the bottom of my Christmas card list.)
Martha Berry did a marvelous thing. Without changing her expression, she thanked Ford as graciously for the dime as she would have had he given her the million bucks. Then she went home and went to work.
She took the dime and bought ten cents’ worth of peanut seed and set her mountain schoolboys to planting. They took that crop as a seed to plant more peanuts, and then they took the peanuts from the second crop and sold them at a small crossroads store. The peanuts brought in enough income to purchase a piano for the school’s music department.
Martha Berry wrote to Henry Ford explaining how she had turned his dime into a piano. He must have been impressed, for he sent Berry a train ticket and an invitation to be their house guest at Henry and Clara Ford’s home in Detroit. He not only opened his home to Martha Berry, he opened his checkbook.
Martha Berry went back to Georgia with Henry Ford’s check for $1 million.
A semi-retired child and adolescent psychologist and speaker, Dr. James Sutton is the author of The Changing Behavior Book: A Fresh Approach to the Difficult Child. His website is http://www.DocSpeak.com; his blog is http://www.itsaboutthem.wordpress.com.