The view when I walked out of the Education building.

The view when I walked out of the Education building.

As I walked out of the Education building at Pacific Union College yesterday afternoon, a large plume of smoke caught my eye. It seemed to be very close and in the direction of my house. It was the kind of hot, windy afternoon that fires love, and intensified by months, and even years, of drought here in California. Colleagues came out onto the front porch of our entryway and joined me in expressing concern and a bit of worrying.

I didn’t think I would get very far, but I decided to head toward the smoke and see what I could see. Sirens had been wailing as fire vehicles sped by the college, so I figured the appropriate blockades were in place. I headed toward Pope Valley and made it all the way to the top of Pope Valley Road, which surprised me. The cloud, although more blocked by trees, still loomed large.

From the top of Pope Valley Road.

From the top of Pope Valley Road.

I decided to head down the hill and see how close I could get to Pope Valley. Remarkably, I thought then, I was able to wind my way to the bottom of the hill and park my truck so that I could walk to the best vantage point. The smoke cloud, still large, was in plain view further down valley than I had thought it would be. Somehow it looked smaller as I got closer.

From the old Pope Valley gas station at the bottom of the hill.

From the old Pope Valley gas station at the bottom of the hill.

Standing across the street from the Pope Valley Fire Department, I could clearly see the orange colored clouds billowing up from the ground; I could see the spotter planes begin to circle over the fire, getting the exact bearings on the fire’s location and I assume helping to organize the efforts to contain it; I could see the bigger planes come in, the ones that dropped retardant on the flames; and I could see fire trucks begin to rapidly appear from Cal Fire and nearby communities. Instead of speeding by to the fire, though, the trucks always pulled into the wide area in front of the Pope Valley Fire Station, sometimes several of them there at the same time. After a few minutes, sometimes longer, the trucks and their crew would turn onto Butts Canyon Road and head north toward the fire.

Waiting to be called in. There would soon be a lot more trucks here.

Waiting to be called in. There would soon be a lot more trucks here.

This was interesting to me and I wondered aloud to a friend standing near me why the trucks seemed to be wasting time when they could be getting to the fire sooner. “Oh,” he explained, “the trucks always wait until they are called in with specific instructions on exactly where to go. It would be a mess if all the trucks just raced to where they thought the fire was.” It made perfect sense after he explained it. I thought again about the coordinated symphony of man and machines – planes, helicopters, ambulances, police cars, fire trucks, personnel trucks, and a host of other support vehicles – and all of the experience that went into knowing how to attack a large fire in a remote area. The fire fighters, whatever their role might be, know what works. There are proven fire-fighting principles that they apply. Their lives depend on these principles.

My friend, Tom Amato, is a strong believer in the principles of choice theory. As director of the Napa Valley Youth Advocacy Center, Tom works to improve, and sometimes even save, the lives of children and teens. Whether a kid is struggling in school, struggling at home, having run-ins with the law, self-medicating with drugs, or developing anti-social behaviors, Tom is relentless in his desire to connect with him/her, to listen, to support, and even to provide opportunities to become engaged in meaningful service to the community. It’s amazing, really!

One thing Tom has said to me more than once is that when the principles of choice theory are correctly and consistently applied, they will work 100% of the time. It is true. There may not be an instant change in those with whom we work, but the principles lead to change. We can count on them as surely as the fire fighters count on the principles of fire fighting.

We know, for instance, that –

+ a positive relationship means everything. We must get and stay connected to the kids we are working with.

+ a need-satisfying environment is important. Rather than on changing the kid, we can focus on providing a need-satisfying structure in our classroom or teen center or wherever it is that we work with himher.

+ the caring habits really work! At-risk kids, when interviewed about what helped them turn things around for the better, consistently mention that they just needed an adult to listen to them, to accept them, and to seek to understand them. As human beings we all respond to the unconditional regard of the caring habits.

+ to get into another person’s quality world, we can only be invited and placed there by the person himself. If we work with kids it is important that we are in their quality world, but we can’t force our way in. We can only behave in a way that the kid will put us there.

+ kids need structure, but not structure designed to accentuate a power struggle. Kids appreciate coercionless-structure.

Of course, it isn’t just kids that respond these principles. We all do!

Here’s to the fire fighters, who make our world a safer place!

And here’s to choice theory, whose principles make our world a better place, too! (With special thanks to Tom Amato.)


Have you read William Glasser: Champion of Choice yet? If not, I will soon be offering signed copies right here from The Better Plan website. Stay tuned.

I am planning on bringing some copies to the 2nd International Glasser Conference next week in Toronto. Hope to see you there!