I wrote an idea down and put it in the bucket. My note said: BE SO NICE TO THE MEAN PEOPLE THAT IT MAKES THEM CRAZY. It was my paraphrase of St. Paul in his letter to the Romans (ch 12: 19-21): "Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.' No, 'if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
As I went back down the mountain toward home, I thought of another answer. I quietly went up to the garage door and wrote TALK TO THEIR FRIENDS AND ASK THEM TO TELL THEM TO STOP BEING MEAN. Maybe the answer is peer pressure, I thought. If the social circle around a person makes it uncool to behave in a certain way, there's a good chance that the behavior will change. I put this note in the plastic container, and as I did so, the little boy spoke. He had been high above me on the front deck of the house, unseen by me, watching me write. "Nobody cares," he said, looking down at me, lamenting that I was the only person so far who had put ideas in the container. I asked him his name, and he answered "Lukas". I said his question was a great one and that I would seek more answers for him.
The next morning I showed a picture of Lukas' sign to my students in the public policy course I teach at the graduate School of Social Work at USC. I passed out cards and invited my students to respond to Lukas' question. With my business card, I bound my students' answers and put them in Lukas' plastic bucket after I got home that evening. Shortly afterward, I got an appreciative email from Lukas' mom, saying that my students' answers had made a strongly positive impression on him.
I have a feeling that young Lukas is wrestling with the dawning awareness that not all people have good intentions. He's trying to come to terms with the problem of evil. Surely there's a way to stop it - isn't there? Perhaps the best we can do for Lukas is to let him know that he's not alone in living with this tough question, and not alone in trying to do something about it. What message from you can I pass along to him?
One of my students put this on a card for Lukas: "I want to thank you for caring enough about the world and for opening the public's eyes. You will make a great leader one day. You are the hope for the future. Happy Thanksgiving!"