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The concept of “un-ringing a bell” has been a common underlying theme of my time with the Children’s Home. My experience last week at Methodist Children’s Home of Southwest Louisiana in Sulphur was a fine example. Here are some of my thoughts on the visit.
In the practice of law, when trying a case in front of a jury, there is a presumption that the jury, once picked, is an impartial body capable of listening to the evidence, arguments and law and then rendering a fair decision.
Rules of evidence are designed to place before the jury only those facts pertinent to the matter at issue – these facts are known as “admissible” evidence.
When something other than admissible evidence is presented to the jury, the judge may instruct the jury to “disregard” that bit of information or argument. If the information is so egregiously detrimental to one of the parties trying the case, then that party may ask for a “mistrial.” If granted, this basically ends the current trial, and both parties must start over from scratch at a later date with a new jury.
The reasoning behind granting a mistrial is that some events, happenings or images are so overwhelming that they cannot simply be “instructed” away. For instance, if I instruct you to “not think of zebras” the first thing you do is think of zebras. Imagine if the “zebra” were a glaringly prejudicial fact about one of the litigants.
The attorney for the party seeking the mistrial will usually argue that you cannot remove the thought from the mind of the juror. You cannot un-ring the bell.
“You cannot un-ring the bell.” This is a powerful truism.
Now, think of our patient population here at the Children’s Home: as a result of their abusive or neglectful backgrounds they now appear to behave neither impartially nor logically. Their outlook is self-deprecating. Their prejudice is against “normal.”
Introduce into this child’s life the polar opposite of the “mistrial” concept. Imagine instead an occurrence so positive, so uncharacteristically uplifting, that the mere experience of it challenges the child’s firmly held presuppositions of what life is. Have we not “rung this child’s bell?” Can this “bell” be “un-rung?” Have we introduced an incipient, positive prejudice that may one day form the basis of a decision to live a better way. That is my hope.
I am hopeful because of my recent trip to the Sulphur campus with Cindy Croft, Samantha Luttrell, 4 horses (General, Hidalgo, Homer & Echo) and everyone’s favorite therapy dog Trapper. Not until we were leaving the campus was the full impact of our visit known. Staff and children alike wanted us to stay, or to return as soon as we could. Staff indicated that the children in the past were so unruly that outdoor recreation was almost impossible because so few could participate positively at one time.
Yet for two days there was Cindy with groups of 4 or 5 having lively and boisterous fun with low ropes and outdoor initiatives. There was Samantha holding the attention of these same young people as she explained in no uncertain terms how each was going to walk his horse and then ride it. There were the smiles. There was the laughter.
There were the bells ringing!
The crescendo of each day was a testament to the power of Equine and Canine Assisted Therapy and of the skill and compassion of both Cindy and Samantha in giving these children these experiences. On the first evening the entire population along with staff sat around a camp fire roasting wieners, buns, apples, marshmallows and singing! Yes, singing. Some spiritual songs, some popular songs and even some old standards (She’ll be coming ‘round the mountain). We all even howled at the moon! There were no fights, harsh words or hurt feelings to be found.
There were the bells ringing!
The next day Cindy managed to get the group involved in what appeared to be a giant jump rope game. There was much laughter and participation. There was also a fast and challenging game with the entire population called “Crows & Cranes” which produced much running, laughter and freedom. Finally, the entire population working in smaller groups beside each other built cardboard chariots for the closing ceremonial “chariot races.” To succeed the teams needed to stay together throughout the race – and follow the rules of the race. It all unfolded in an organized and fascinatingly “normal” way!
Again, there were the bells ringing!
I am proud to be a part of this agency and support the ministry of the Methodist Children’s Home. I am proud to work with so many good people. And, I am privileged to work so closely with Cindy Croft and Samantha Luttrell – two of the best bell-ringers I have ever met.
Marketing & Program Coordinator
Outdoor Wilderness Learning Center
1523 Hwy 563
Dubach, LA 71235
A program of Louisiana Methodist Children’s Home