Sometimes this column is used to write about simple ideas that might seem superfluous because they are obvious and well- known, but still they need to be talked about to remind us to actually carry out the things we know.
A certain educator showed me a letter he recently received from a former student who wrote, "One conversation you had with me helped me throughout my life."
This sentence certainly piques one's curiosity. What kind of conversation was so successful that it helped a student for the rest of his life?
Here is what the student writes: "As a boy I used to get in trouble with my parents and teachers, including you. And I would get punished and yelled at more than anyone else.
"One day you approached me and asked to speak with me. You sat with me in the school yard and said, `I can see that you have problems with the teaching staff and with me. To tell you the truth I sat and thought about you and I realized when it comes down to it you're actually a nice boy not looking for trouble, yet sometimes you make me angry and force me to punish you.
" `I thought a lot about what it is in you that causes these feelings and I think I've figured it out. You have this smirk on your face that to me, and probably to the other teachers, makes it look like you're sneering at us. I watched you for a while and I realized you're not wearing a smile of disrespect but of embarrassment and shyness. But I think I'm the only one who realizes this. So either you'll have to tell everyone you mean nothing by this look of yours or else you'll have to do something about it.'
"Besides this piece of good advice, which provided me a technical means of staying out of trouble and let me know that nobody has something against me, it also was a big chiddush: I saw that somebody cared about me. A person who gets angry with me and instead of rushing to blame me alone asks himself why he gets angry at me. The conversation and the very fact that an educator was thinking about me gave me much strength and faith in people that remain to this very day."
I also heard another firsthand story about an educator who "forced" one of his students to get his badly crooked teeth straightened out. Only ten years later, when his teeth stood as straight and tall as a row of buildings, did he learn to value not only the piece of good advice but also the caring behind it.
If we take a look within ourselves we'll discover that we can recall one or two conversations during our youth that gave us strength for the rest of our lives. Some remember certain periods during which they had such conversations and others received ongoing support from their parents and teachers.
(And true, just like in anything, some got long lectures on a daily basis that were sure to take away their desire to hold a personal conversation with somebody. There are always extremes, even though intentions may be good.)
Each of us should do some self-examination to see whether he has ever held a conversation with his children. And it should be stressed that, "Take out the garbage" is not a conversation and not even, "Why aren't you trying harder in your studies?" Those are remarks, not conversation. A conversation is something you set time aside for. No phone calls or other disturbances. It takes place between two people and not in a crowd. And it has value in and of itself, regardless of the contents.
Many will find they have never held such a conversation.
But better late than never.
Our immediate inclination is to hold a conversation with the child regarding the things he does not excel at (of course in a positive atmosphere and with love and of course offering advice based on rich experience). But this is not the kind of conversation we're referring to.
We're referring to a "pleasant conversation." Calm, affirmative communication that does not trigger the child's defense mechanisms and does not fill his head with matters of, "How should I answer?" and, "Why he's not really right" and, "They started first."
How do we do this?
The best way is to share with the child or young adult the childhood or adolescent experiences that all of us went through. To depict a period, events, challenges and uncertainties.
One need not demand that he tell you about his problems or about his friends unless he himself chooses to do so. In fact there is no need to press him to talk. Just demonstrate affability and the realization that his father had to cope with the same challenges, too. Sometimes these efforts succeeded, other times they failed. Sometimes they failed first and then succeeded.
The best way is simply to tell the truth. Even if it's not such a good story, such as a social problem, a dispute or failures in one's studies.
The very fact that at this moment you are head of a family, walking along with your son and telling him everything that was good and everything that was bad — even if it seems to have ended badly, it really ended well. The proof is the very fact that the conversation is taking place and your ability to conduct it.
A pleasant conversation is one that is planned. A time is arranged (which creates a feeling of anticipation in the child), other matters are set aside, you don't get up when the phone rings.
One conversation like this per month is enough to solve many problems and, even more importantly, to prevent many others.
And conversations like this should be conducted with other people besides your children.
There are certain people with whom a serious conversation should be held, though at greater intervals—even once a year or even once in a lifetime. Your colleagues at work, your partner, the neighbor, the boss and even your bitterest rival. A conversation like this can straighten out matters, plot the future relationship and even keep rivalry or competition in check.
These days, with communications so advanced and prominent in our lives, when people cease to create communication with others they are forgetting the simplest thing that can be.
To sit and talk with those they are closest to and love the most.
Chaim Walder received numerous reactions to the above column (written originally in Hebrew) and brought some of them to readers' attention.
The responses to last week's column were out of the ordinary, both in terms of quantity and quality.
Apparently the issue of the power of a conversation to leave a lasting and positive imprint on the soul spurred many readers to survey their pasts, recalling the moments that had an impact on them—for better or worse.
In the following lines I will present a few of these stories as proof of the importance and obligation for all of us to create positive moments in their relations with others, especially their children, students and relatives. Look and see for yourself what these moments can accomplish.
"My most notable memory," writes someone from the Central Region in a fax he sent to me, "was when I was accused by one of my teachers of some kind of mischief. He yelled at me and reprimanded me in front of everybody. But the next day, he realized I was entirely innocent. He asked everybody to close their books. The whole class was silent because everyone knew he was about to say something important.
"Then he simply apologized to me.
"It was not your typical apology. He explained the mistake he had made and how sorry he felt for me and now he was coming before everyone to ask my forgiveness and he very much wanted me to pardon him.
"I have no idea why, but I know this apology had an effect on me during the course of my life. I cannot recall any other event that was more empowering than this. Today I understand that this apology was a show of respect for me and who I am, which every child needs. It gave me an underlying faith in people and the feeling no one wants to harm me intentionally.
"As soon as I read your column I recalled this story and tears came to my eyes. I think this teacher not only rectified a small injustice but made me pleased with it because it gave me these moments that provided such a sense of importance and strength throughout my life."
"I recalled a moment that for some reason remained in my memory more than any other," writes a reader from the South. "I was seven or eight, and one day I came home to a surprise birthday party. All of my brothers and sisters were there and they gave me a present.
"It was a bag with lots of little items wrapped in gift wrap, i.e. a present consisting of many presents.
"I opened the first one and found a little toy car inside. One matchbox car and then another and another. In my mind there must have been at least 50 cars there, although with my more sober thinking today I realize there couldn't have been more than twelve.
"It is hard for me to recall moments of greater joy in my childhood.
"I don't think it was the cars (which of course could be bought for 20 agorot) but the thought of buying me so many presents and wrapping them one by one and holding this ceremony.
"You may think I'm a bit strange but if you wrote about moving moments in life, this was a moment that will never leave me. It gave me a great deal. Especially the feeling and knowledge I am loved."
"What I remember most was the day I was notified by an organization called Batya that they wanted to make me a madrichah. I was a girl who didn't think too highly of herself and I myself didn't think I was very worth emulating. The moment the woman in charge told me I had been selected, along with another girl from my class, was a very significant moment in my life, because the task forced me to become something I hadn't been previously. I gathered much strength in yiras Shomayim and tsnius and I turned into a model for other girls. Today as a teacher and the wife of an avreich, I think this moment helped build me and the home I have made."
"I would like to tell you about a special moment other people might not understand very well.
"It was Purim. My school organized a Purim fair with booths. What attracted everybody was a big drawing in which the first- place prize was a Shas. They made a big deal out of the Shas, photographing it and advertising it on huge posters until every boy wanted to win it.
"Towards the end of the fair the drawing was held for the small prizes and then for the grand prize. I won the Shas.
"I remember the moment to this day. It wasn't a person giving it to me but rather it came from Shomayim. But perhaps the very fact HaKodosh Boruch Hu chose me out of everybody else gave me immeasurable strength. And it seemed as if all of the people and children there had decided to give me the prize. They chose me from among everybody else.
"This moment gave me so much strength that now, 30 years later, I remember as if it were yesterday."
"I have a very big family. At every family gathering, one of my relatives would give every child in the family a coin—a half-shekel, a shekel or a five-shekel coin, depending on the child's age. I don't think it was the money so much as the knowledge that somebody took note of us little kids who just ran around and bothered everyone, that somebody thought of us and was giving us attention, in small, medium and large amounts.
"Through him we also knew we were growing up as the value of the coin increased. I think these moments also helped him to get to know us by name (no simple endeavor considering the size of our family). In short, these little coins were worth their weight in gold in terms of the attention that went with them and the very act of giving.
There were another five anecdotes that I thought could go into this column, but there's no room left. The point of bringing the above stories to the public is primarily to internalize the message that a small, affirmative act or any act of giving can stay with a person his whole life.
If people were aware of the importance of these gestures, great and small, they would probably seek out every opportunity to give: to their children, their family members and their friends. For giving is a pleasant experience, both for the giver and the receiver. To give of one's heart is also a fabulous thing and it costs nothing.
And another thing. What comes from the heart and goes to the heart can never be lost or forgotten.