Category Archives: Morality

After 40 years, Utah man seeks forgiveness from Texas town

By Jason F. Wright

Dr. Kim Roberts of Salt Lake City and Robert Hanna of Denison, Texas, have never met. They’ve never chatted on the phone nor exchanged an email.

Instead, they’re linked by two letters and bonded by a brick.

In 1973, Roberts was serving as a missionary in Texas when his travels took him to Denison, a small city 75 miles north of Dallas.

Roberts remembers one afternoon strolling along and noticing something unusual about the red bricks in the sidewalk near the house they temporarily called home. Some of the standard-sized bricks were stamped with the words, “Don’t Spit on Sidewalk.”

Roberts eyed a few unstamped bricks loose on the edge of the road and decided it was time to take a souvenir. He carefully pried a couple of bricks loose from the sidewalk and replaced them with plain ones. He later learned that the unusual bricks had been laid at the turn of the century as a reminder to citizens of the tumbleweed town that they could reduce the spread of tuberculosis by not spitting on the ground.

Roberts wrapped up his brick and placed it in his suitcase. It then traveled with him over his remaining days in Texas, and eventually, on a plane to his family’s home in Seattle.

He was proud of his unique souvenir and took care of it. He painted the stamped letters white to help them stand out and coated the brick in lacquer. It was a fantastic conversation starter and a sweet memory of his service in Texas.

But as the years passed, the brick became heavier and heavier. In a recent interview, Roberts described his change of heart.

“As time went on, it hit me (that) I’d stolen something. But I didn’t steal an object. I’d stolen a part of history from this town.”

The feelings became stronger during the 80’s and 90’s and for the last eight years he whispered these words every time he saw the brick. “I should really send that back.”

One Sunday in church, during a lesson on honesty, he knew he couldn’t wait any longer. Like all of us, Roberts confides there are several things in his life he cannot completely correct.

“So, I guess I finally realized I should rectify what I can,” he said. “We all do things, and at the time, we think they’re humorous or not harmful to anyone. But as we mature, we grow in understanding and see that some of our past actions haven’t been that noble. So we repent, make it right, do all we can and the Atonement takes over.”

With those words on his mind, Roberts finally wrapped the brick back up and with the help of the Internet, found an address for the city offices of Denison, Texas. But sending a 110-year-old bubble-wrapped brick by itself wasn’t enough. Roberts needed to write a letter, and the letter needed to ask for forgiveness.

To Whom It May Concern:

This may seem like an odd letter accompanying an old package. Let me explain. Forty years ago I had the privilege of serving in the state of Texas as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I spent a few days in Denison and was fascinated with the many neatly paved sidewalks featuring the “Don’t Spit on Sidewalk” logo. I determined that I needed one as a souvenir and helped myself to one, not thinking that my actions were a complete contradiction of who and what I represented. Over the years I have had occasional pangs of guilt, but while sitting in church this past Sunday and listening to a lesson on honesty I determined that now is the time to return the brick to its rightful owners. I do so with my full apologies for showing disrespect to the good people of Denison. I ask your forgiveness. I realize that the brick most likely cannot be returned to the previous place in the sidewalk in front of the house where I was staying at the time in 1973 (I don’t recall the address), but perhaps by placing it in a conspicuous place in your offices it will be a reminder that, in the end, honesty is the best policy. Thank you.

Kim G. Roberts

Some 1,200 miles away in Denison, city manager Robert Hanna was toiling away at another day. Not only was Hanna not in Texas in 1973 when the brick was stolen, he wasn’t even in his parents’ plans yet. Plus, the remaining “Don’t Spit on Sidewalk” bricks were long gone from Denison’s sidewalks and streets.

He’ll never forget the day the heavy box arrived.

“Mr. Hanna,” Cheryl Green called from her desk outside his office. “You need to come see this.” The brick was so well wrapped and packaged, Hanna said it wouldn’t have just survived a drop from a mail truck; one could have run it over.

The brick and letter stunned him. “In my world, this never happens,” Hanna explained. “This is a one in a million thing. We have street signs, stop signs, you name it, stolen all the time. Nothing comes back.”

Hanna could not stop thinking about the gesture from the former LDS missionary. “I think God uses people like this. And it speaks to this man’s character. It was such a trivial thing. But to carry that around,” Hanna hesitated a moment before adding a simple and subtle, “Wow.”

Though not a member of the same church, Hanna has great respect for the faith and is familiar with its teachings. “God uses people to send messages,” he said, and he knew the message Roberts needed to hear.

Ten days later, he sat at his desk and penned a letter on Denison letterhead.

Dear Dr. Roberts,

Is it not written in 2 Nephi 25:26, “And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins?”

Be at peace with yourself and your actions. By taking what wasn’t yours, you preserved a piece of Denison history that the city did not see fit to preserve many years ago. Thanks to you and your actions, we can hold a piece of our community’s history once again and display it with pride. Behold! God “worketh all things after the counsel of his own will” (Ephesians 1:11).

May the Lord bless you in all things and grant you peace.


Robert Hanna

Back in Utah, Roberts was touched by the kind letter and filled with the peace he’d longed for. To him, it wasn’t just about a brick. It was about the pure principle of forgiveness.

When both humble men were asked what they hope people will remember about their inspiring story, their answers were nearly identical. It’s never too late to give up the bricks in our lives. And our loads become so much lighter when the bricks are back where they belong.

Even if it’s on a shelf in a small Texas town called Denison.


Why Aren’t We Rude to Grown-ups the Way We Are Rude to Kids?

By Ben Martin

Ben Martin listens to the way we talk to kids. And he finds it incomprehensible that we can’t give them the respect we give to adults.


What the ever-loving, craptastic, holy heck! I’ve seen adults reprimand kids countless times before, but it wasn’t until yesterday morning that I finally noticed what assholes grown-ups are when they talk to kids.

It began in the library at about 8:00. I overheard a woman as she was tutoring three middle school kids. The tutor, her voice already dripping with disgust, sighed, “Open up your textbooks.” One of the guys, who looked particularly bleary-eyed and tired, was slow to react and the tutor said, “Is this how we’re going to start? Really?” She was exasperated already and the kids hadn’t even settled into their chairs. She began to drone out the text and asked the kids questions that had clearly been designed by the chairman of the board of a mattress company specifically to put people to sleep. Over the next half hour, she split her time between reading aloud from the textbook and complaining that the kids a) needed to keep all the chair legs on the floor, and b) needed to wake up and answer the questions she was sleep-reading from the book.


Later, I overheard an exchange in a classroom of early elementary age kids. The teacher, teeth audibly clenched, and with all the enthusiasm of a politician testifying before Congress, said, “I’m going to get some games for the classroom and I want to know what ideas you all have for what games would be good to have.” It sounded as if she resented the kids for making her take the time to explain this whole “classroom games” scheme. The kids, being of the younger variety, were pretty excited about games in the classroom in spite of their teacher and started calling out the names of their favorites. The teacher’s response indicated that this was exactly the kind of bullshit she’d expected. With a tone that virtually cried out that it was all she could do not to bang her head against a wall, she said, “You know, I do not have to get games for you! If you’re not going to raise your hands and talk one at a time, I just might not get any games at all.” Rinse and repeat as the little kids quieted down, got excited again, and were threatened with no games again.

At swimming lessons it was more of the same. All the kids had to get out of the pool to put on life preservers for the drill they were about to run and a 5 year old fast-walked around the pool. I get that you can’t have horseplay or running at the pool. Safety is important. Still, that doesn’t excuse the way the instructor shouted the boy back into the pool to re-exit and slow walk it. After the lesson was over the instructor began handing out congratulatory certificates. My son, Steve, who always has to pee by the end of the lesson had gone straight to the bathroom from the pool. The instructor held out Steve’s certificate without looking up, said, “Steve,” and then, still not looking up, shouted, “STEVE!” before I had a chance to take it and tell him that Steve was in the bathroom.

During the swimming certificate distribution, another boy, who looked to be around 4, stood and swung a faux-olympic medal around by the ribbon. His mother grabbed his arm, snatched away the medal, and shouted, “You’re going to hit someone with that!”


In each of these cases, the rudeness occurred in the context of doing something helpful or special for the kids involved. It was all just tokenism. The fake-gold medal, the swimming certificates decorated with smiley-face stickers, the special games for the class, and the extra help with homework were all designed to bolster self-worth, but were all undercut by a lack of basic patience and consideration.
I’ve done these types of things myself all too often. I’m impatient. I’m exasperated. I’m tired. I predict the worst behavior and then react to it before it happens. I’m not saying that the tutor or the teacher or the swimming instructor or the mom are bad people. Hell, there’s a better-than-even chance that they’re kinder, more patient people than I am. Some other guy is probably wrapping up another blog post right now based on something awful he heard me say to my kids. For one reason or another, it just really struck me today, for the first time, that even the most well-behaved kids get talked to this way every single day. Our collective inability to treat kids with basic respect provides one consistent message: you’re irritating and in the way.


The Way We Talk to Kids

I, however, don’t get spoken to the way kids do. People just…don’t shout at me. I honestly don’t remember the last time anyone spoke to me the way I heard literally dozens of kids being spoken to throughout the day in a variety of settings yesterday. Not when I’m at home. Not when I was employed. Not when I’m on the subway. Not when I make mistakes. Not when I’m a bit lazy. Not when I skip out on brushing my teeth before bed. Not when I lean back in my chair. I’m not a particularly intimidating person, but people don’t roll their eyes and grit their teeth and talk to me like it’s all they can manage to just keep from punching me in my big, fat, stupid face.

I also don’t remember the last time I spoke to another adult that way, but I probably raised my voice or spoke impatiently to my kids yesterday. I don’t remember because, honestly, it wouldn’t really stand out as unusual.

Picture this though: Imagine that an intrepid hero, we’ll call him Grown-Up Man, is waiting to get on the bus. It’s cold. There’s a woman in front of him who is not immediately boarding the train and is holding up the line by a few seconds. She’s probably just daydreaming or something. Imagine that instead of clearing his throat and saying, “Train’s boarding”, our hero raises his voice and spits, “Hey! Stop spacing out and get on the train right this second! You’re holding up the whole line!” The woman would probably give Grown-Up Man what-for unless she was too frightened of him. Others in line might tell our hero to calm down, or would at least give him a bunch of ugly looks. Now imagine that instead of being some grown-up woman, our hero is talking to an eight-year-old boy. That’s not even an interesting anecdote anymore. Maybe someone would raise an eyebrow and then go back to playing with their iPhone.

Here’s another one. Imagine you’re at a spinning class at the rec center. You’re pedaling away, but you really have to pee. So, you get off the bike and start walking toward the bathroom when the instructor stops everything and says, “Hey! Where do you think you’re going? Get back on your bike now.” “Umm. But, I have to go to the bathroom.” “Okay. Fine! Maybe we should all just wait here until you get back. Come on! You’re holding up the class!”

I know that my circumstances, gender, and even dumb luck play a part in keeping me from being shouted at regularly. It’s certainly not that I’m a particularly competent person. I know that parents sometimes shout at teachers. Bosses sometimes swear at employees. Customers scream at waiters and cashiers. We can pretty much all agree that when that happens it usually means that the one who starts the shouting is being an asshole. When it happens between a kid and an adult, it’s easy to dismiss it as just the way things are.

As a dad, I know that I’m a role model for my kids. I’ve always been careful to treat people respectfully. I say thanks when people hold the door. I don’t yell at waiters when they forget that I wanted them to hold the onions. But yesterday I realized that it’s not enough to just show my kids how I try not to be an asshole to the bus driver. I also have to recognize when I’m being an asshole to them.

photo: vesparado / flickr


Why French Kids Don’t Have ADHD

French children don’t need medications to control their behavior.

By Marilyn Wedge

In the United States, at least 9% of school-aged children have been diagnosed with ADHD, and are taking pharmaceutical medications. In France, the percentage of kids diagnosed and medicated for ADHD is less than .5%. How come the epidemic of ADHD—which has become firmly established in the United States—has almost completely passed over children in France?

Is ADHD a biological-neurological disorder? Surprisingly, the answer to this question depends on whether you live in France or in the United States. In the United States, child psychiatrists consider ADHD to be a biological disorder with biological causes. The preferred treatment is also biological–psycho stimulant medications such as Ritalin and Adderall.

French child psychiatrists, on the other hand, view ADHD as a medical condition that has psycho-social and situational causes. Instead of treating children’s focusing and behavioral problems with drugs, French doctors prefer to look for the underlying issue that is causing the child distress—not in the child’s brain but in the child’s social context. They then choose to treat the underlying social context problem with psychotherapy or family counseling. This is a very different way of seeing things from the American tendency to attribute all symptoms to a biological dysfunction such as a chemical imbalance in the child’s brain.

French child psychiatrists don’t use the same system of classification ofchildhood emotional problems as American psychiatrists. They do not use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or DSM.According to Sociologist Manuel Vallee, the French Federation ofPsychiatry developed an alternative classification system as a resistance to the influence of the DSM-3. This alternative was the CFTMEA(Classification Française des Troubles Mentaux de L’Enfant et de L’Adolescent), first released in 1983, and updated in 1988 and 2000. The focus of CFTMEA is on identifying and addressing the underlying psychosocial causes of children’s symptoms, not on finding the best pharmacological bandaids with which to mask symptoms.

To the extent that French clinicians are successful at finding and repairing what has gone awry in the child’s social context, fewer children qualify for the ADHD diagnosis. Moreover, the definition of ADHD is not as broad as in the American system, which, in my view, tends to “pathologize” much of what is normal childhood behavior. The DSMspecifically does not consider underlying causes. It thus leads clinicians to give the ADHD diagnosis to a much larger number of symptomatic children, while also encouraging them to treat those children with pharmaceuticals.

The French holistic, psychosocial approach also allows for considering nutritional causes for ADHD-type symptoms—specifically the fact that the behavior of some children is worsened after eating foods with artificial colors, certain preservatives, and/or allergens. Clinicians who work with troubled children in this country—not to mention parents of many ADHD kids—are well aware that dietary interventions can sometimes help a child’s problem. In the United States, the strict focus on pharmaceutical treatment of ADHD, however, encourages clinicians to ignore the influence of dietary factors on children’s behavior.

And then, of course, there are the vastly different philosophies of child-rearing in the United States and France. These divergent philosophies could account for why French children are generally better-behaved than their American counterparts. Pamela Druckerman highlights the divergent parenting styles in her recent book, Bringing up Bébé. I believe her insights are relevant to a discussion of why French children are not diagnosed with ADHD in anything like the numbers we are seeing in the United States.

From the time their children are born, French parents provide them with a firm cadre—the word means “frame” or “structure.” Children are not allowed, for example, to snack whenever they want. Mealtimes are at four specific times of the day. French children learn to wait patiently for meals, rather than eating snack foods whenever they feel like it. French babies, too, are expected to conform to limits set by parents and not by their crying selves. French parents let their babies “cry it out” if they are not sleeping through the night at the age of four months.

French parents, Druckerman observes, love their children just as much as American parents. They give them piano lessons, take them to sportspractice, and encourage them to make the most of their talents. But French parents have a different philosophy of discipline. Consistently enforced limits, in the French view, make children feel safe and secure. Clear limits, they believe, actually make a child feel happier and safer—something that is congruent with my own experience as both a therapist and a parent. Finally, French parents believe that hearing the word “no” rescues children from the “tyranny of their own desires.” And spanking, when used judiciously, is not considered child abuse in France. (Author’s note: I am not personally in favor of spanking children).

As a therapist who works with children, it makes perfect sense to me that French children don’t need medications to control their behavior because they learn self-control early in their lives. The children grow up in families in which the rules are well-understood, and a clear family hierarchy is firmly in place. In French families, as Druckerman describes them, parents are firmly in charge of their kids—instead of the American family style, in which the situation is all too often vice versa.

Copyright © Marilyn Wedge, Ph.D.
Marilyn Wedge is the author of Pills Are Not for Preschoolers: A Drug-Free Approach for Troubled Kids