Picture this scene: A group of college students and ministry staff gather in a huge tent for a birthday party while on a beach mission project in New Zealand. As the students set out decorations and prepare to yell “Surprise,” two little boys who are staying at the same campground where the mission team lodges during their project wander into the tent.
One of the children is about five years old; the other, about three. The five-year-old, Cam, carries an ice cream cone while the three-year-old, Callum, sips from a beer can he holds.
What would you do?
I can tell you what I did. I tried to remove the can from Callum’s hand as quickly as possible. First I bent down and told him simply to give it to me. He jerked it away, so I followed him and kept ordering him to give me the beer can.
Callum resisted, which should come as no surprise, so I tried a slightly different tack. I began to ask him to give me the can, even saying “please.” Still I had no success.
All this time, his friend Cam badgered me as I badgered Callum. “That’s Callum’s beer can,” Cam whined, “His dad gave it to him!”
I ignored Cam as I continued to plead with Callum to surrender the can. Even though it was mostly empty, I still saw him drinking a few drops—far too much for a three-year-old, in my opinion.
Then another staff member in our group advised me to offer Callum something in exchange for the beer can. I felt irritated at myself for not thinking of this in the first place. So I tried giving him a party horn, but he rejected it, clinging stubbornly to his can.
Finally, one of the students on our project team—a New Zealander herself, named Sarah—gently approached Callum, leaned down to him, and whispered something I could not hear.
To my utter surprise, Callum handed the beer can over without any fuss. Sarah stood up with the beer can in her hand, and I asked how she accomplished the feat that had beaten me.
Sarah replied that she had merely said “ta” to Callum, a word that means “please” in New Zealand kiddy language, she explained.
I stared at Sarah with my mouth agape for a moment. My prodding, goading, and demanding had made Callum only more adamant about keeping his beer can. Sarah’s shrewdness—her wisdom in assessing the situation and figuring out how to handle it—allowed her to change negative circumstances that I had only seemed to worsen.
A moment later, Callum’s parents stopped by the tent and gave him an ice cream cone, a much more suitable party food for a three-year old.
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