I’ll never forget the day little Danny fell off the five- foot-high plastic slide at the neighborhood playground. He and some of the other three-year-olds were being rambunctious, the way three-year-olds can be. And before I could intervene, Danny fell flat on his back with a loud thud.
All eyes turned toward Danny. All of us, I think, expected him to scream out in pain or fear or both.
A bit stunned, Danny exclaimed, “Ouch!” Then he got up and went back to playing.
Yes, children can teach us some of our most profound lessons. First, Danny said “Ouch!” As adults, most of us have learned too well how to hide our pain. Acknowledging that we’re sick, in emotional pain, or struggling with our vulnerability can be seen as a weakness.
But young Danny hadn’t yet learned to stuff his pain—he said, “Ouch!”
Although it was certainly appropriate for Danny to acknowledge that the fall hurt him, he had a decision to make at that point. As he lay on his back and looked around, he could see everyone staring at him. It would have been easy to milk the moment for some sympathy and attention. Yet Danny chose to get up and begin playing again.
What a contrast with the way many of us grownups react. Either we refuse to say “Ouch” and acknowledge our distress; or we choose to remain on the ground as long as we can, looking for as much sympathy as we can generate. Some of us go far beyond saying “Ouch”—we stay on the ground and indulge in self-pity.
When I was about Danny’s age, I tripped on the neighbor’s gravel driveway and cut my knees. At the sight of blood, I screamed like crazy and became combative toward my friends when they tried to help me. Finally, an adult neighbor carried me home, where my mom bandaged my wounds.
Was I injured? Yes. Did I overreact? Absolutely. Instead of merely saying “Ouch,” I was so melodramatic that it would’ve been easy to assume I needed a hospital bed…or at least a few stitches!
Danny also avoided another favorite adult reaction to injury: He didn’t look for somebody to blame. How easy it would have been to get into the tattle-tale mode and complain that the whole thing was “Johnny’s fault.” But while blame-shifting momentarily helps us save face, in the long run it does us no good.
Many people find their life unraveling because they haven’t learned Danny’s lessons. Some get stuck because they have never said “Ouch” and asked for healing. Others remain lying on the floor, refusing to get up and resume their lives again. And some stay stuck because they insist on blaming others rather than taking responsibility for their own mishaps.
The next time you find yourself falling on your back, remember that it’s alright to say “Ouch.” But don’t forget to get back up and start playing again.