I had one of those experiences last night. There is one young man, I will call him Jay, who was really difficult the first night I met him. When I tried to get him and his friends to go to bed (I work overnight shift after all), he accused me first of not understanding teenagers and what they are going through, then played the racism card, then began making sexual comments. Lovely night!
Since then though we have developed a relationship, and now when I come in at night he greets me with a smile. We make small talk, and when he is in the mood he greets me with a hug. I look back at that first night in amazement...until last night.
Jay and one of his friends had some half-baked scheme that I never discovered, but was able to thwart. I knew I was ruining their plans because they began to get angry. At one point Jay and his buddy had split up, and so I radioed for assistance. He told me that would only make the situation worse, the tone of his words was clear. He was a threatening me, trying to scare me into backing down.
Call me naive (I will own it, being somewhat naive is a safe harbor), but I could not believe he was threatening me! Hadn't we come to some kind of understanding with one another? Perhaps not.
He then proceeded to give me his best gangster face (and yes he is actually in a gang, and yes he did look threatening). The funny thing was he froze this scowl on his face and appeared to be trying to stare me down. Unbelievable.
I said, "Jay are you having a seizure? That happened once with another boys who lived here." He didn't laugh, but my partner who was upstairs keeping a careful watch said she thought it was hilarious. He did, however, stop scowling at me and he and his buddy went to bed at last.
This is not the first time I have wondered which side of this young man's personality is the REAL one? Is the gangster real, and the nice young man an act, a ruse? Or is the charming young man real, and the gangster persona a ruse for his friends? Maybe both of them live inside of him, and it just depends which one he allows to come to the surface.
I have these kinds of questions a few of the boys. Finally I realized, it doesn't matter. I might never have the answer to my questions but my job, not only as "staff", but as a daughter of God, is to try and nurture the side of them I want to see more of. I am reminded of a favorite quote that I haven't thought of for a long time.
Goethe, a German Philosopher, said, "If you treat a man as he is, he will stay as he is. If you treat a man as he should be and could be, he will become what he ought to be."As this idea was impressed upon me (the Spirit?), it was also impressed upon me that I need to give the same nurturing to myself. After all, many times I have asked who am I? Am I the person I sometimes see in the mirror (not a physical mirror, but life's cold reality) a person with so many flaws and weaknesses that if I were a piece of clay I would roll myself into a ball and start over. Other times though I am gentler with myself, I look in the mirror and feel joy at who I have become.
Which one is real? Am I being too hard on myself sometimes and too idealistic other times? And does it matter? I see now that what I need to do is nurture that "best self". If it isn't real maybe nurturing it can make it become so.