Coach Jarvis Newcombe and the reporter walked slowly across the infield of the track. A photographer trailed them framing and snapping pictures of the young people working all around them. Some were running; others were working on the track; some were handling the equipment; and even more were serving as trainers and taping and icing sore ankles.
They had already toured the Freedom Center and seen kids working on all sorts of developmental projects.
The news story was to help celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Freedom Track Club that Jarvis had led for ten years helping boys and girls learn and practice the skills to survive in an increasingly difficult world.
Any kid, between fifth and twelfth grade could participate as long as they remained in school and out of trouble.
The name was somewhat a misnomer because a kid didn’t have to be an athlete to be included. But more about that later.
Jarvis’ Personal Track
At age twelve, Jarvis was well on his way to serious trouble. He’d been in Family Court twice already. He mother couldn’t handle him and his father was non-existent. Jarvis was an outgoing kid who always seemed to be on the front row when trouble began and he had learned that there was some status to be had by being quick; quick to hit, quick to snatch something he wanted that didn’t belong to him; or quick to talk smack that usually led to a fight.
The family court had done a thorough workup of Jarvis, and had learned that he was also quick in another way – he was a really, really fast runner for his age group.
As he faced the judge a third time, his options were made very clear to him.
One, he could spend twelve months in Juvie for this second shoplifting charge. Or;
Two, he could agree to join a local track team that was run by Coach Maxwell Anderson.
The judge told him that it would be tough; that he would be monitored by a probation officer; and that Coach Anderson was a taskmaster who demanded total effort as well as keeping out of trouble. The reward would be staying at home and learning how to manage his life better. The downside was if he appeared in Family Court again, he only had one option left.
He looked at his mother sitting on the row behind him. The look on her face was pleading him to take the second option.
His first session with Coach Anderson was something he had never forgotten; not because it was awful, but rather because for the first time in his life, he felt an adult treating him with respect and expectations.
On the wall behind Coach Anderson’s table was a banner, “Freedom to Run; Run to Freedom.” On the banner he saw the names and signatures of dozens people.
Coach Anderson explained that Jarvis was looking at the name of every person who had successfully finished this program.
There were four requirements for successfully finishing the program.
One – he had to stay in school and make C’s or better.
Two – he had to stay out of trouble with the law.
Three – he had to treat other people with respect
Four – he had to agree to practice the three Principles of Freedom as long as he was in the program.
Coach Anderson explained the requirements.
Staying in school with a C average or better meant that he had to make a decision every day to do the work he needed to do that day to do well in school. He couldn’t play around in school and expect to succeed in the track club or in life. He also had to recognize when he needed help in school and ask one of the volunteer tutors to help him. Coach Anderson said, “Jarvis, nobody can read your mind. You have to make the decisions that will help you do well in school.”
Staying out of trouble with the law sounded obvious. Coach Anderson explained that staying out of trouble came from making good decisions every day. He would make a choice who he wanted to hang with. He would make a choice where to hang. He would make a choice whether to stop or to keep walking. As long as he made the right choices, he would most likely stay out of trouble.
Treating other people with respect flew in the face of typical neighbor behavior, where smack-talking and trash-mouthing others were the norm. “Jarvis, you will be treated with respect here; and you must treat others with the same respect. You must be man enough to apologize when you disrespect someone else; and you must be man enough to choose to walk away when somebody disrespects you.”
A look crossed Jarvis’ face that told Coach Anderson he had struck a nerve. “Jarvis, can you tell me what you’re thinking right now?”
“What you’re saying ain’t easy. There’s people out there who will push me around and then beat me up if I don’t fight back.”
“What I’m saying is not easy, Jarvis.”
“And I agree with you. I lived on those same streets as you. I know where you’re coming from. But let me see if I can explain the difference.”
“There are different laws in effect today and we choose the laws we want to live by.” Seeing the puzzled look on Jarvis’ face, he continued.
“On the streets, lots of people live under the law of victimhood. They accept the premise that they are victims of their circumstances and that there’s nothing they can do about it. So they do whatever necessary to be as invisible as possible so as to avoid trouble.”
“This is a bad law.”
“Then there is the law of control. Those people measure their worth by the number of people under their control. Their goal is power. These are the people who will beat you up if you don’t play the victim and beat you up if you stand up to them. When you think about it, the people who want to control others are victims in that they can’t do what they need to do to prosper under a higher law. And they can’t have power by themselves. They have to be part of a gang to give them any strength at all. Without their gang, they don’t have any power.”
“This is a bad law.”
“The common laws are established by the people through their government and are enforced by the prosecutors and the police. Part of respecting yourself is choosing to live under this law when other people are trying to force you to live as a victim.”
“This is a good law.”
“The last is the Higher Law that is superior to everything else. This law is characterized by the premise, ‘Do to other people like you would have them to do to you.’ It also says that you should love and respect other people the same as you love and respect yourself.”
“Part of loving and respecting yourself is being willing to say “No” when you’re tempted or threatened to fall under another law.”
“This is the best law.”
“The beauty of this law is that the Giver of the Higher Law does not ask us to do something that we’re not capable of doing. He gives us tools and created us in such a way that we can live by the Higher Law; and this gives us freedom.”
“Lastly, let me share with you the Three Principles of Freedom.”
“Jarvis, I’m guessing that you are like most of the young men living in this neighborhood in that you have a lot of angry thoughts rolling around in your head. Is that right?”
Jarvis thought about that and finally nodded his head.
“I lived with that too, Jarvis, for many years. Then I learned these Principles of Freedom.
Three Principles of Freedom.
Principle of Freedom 1 – Whenever a thought enters your mind that will cause you pain, tempts you to do wrong, or keep you from being the best you can be, you say to yourself out loud, “I will not think about that.” When the thought comes back, and it will, you say it again, “I will not think about that.”
Coach Anderson explained that this idea had been around for thousands of years and it’s even mentioned in the Bible. “We simply do not have to let negative thoughts control our lives,” he said.
He explained that we can get so distracted by negative thinking that we sometimes aren’t able to do the things what we’re perfectly capable of doing like doing well in school or staying out of trouble.
“The reason this works so well is Principle of Freedom 2.”
Principle of Freedom 2 – When you consistently practice the first law, negative thoughts will pop up less and less often until you really don’t think about them at all.
He explained that we all have a part of our mind, called the subconscious, which has the role of helping us be happy and content. If our subconscious thinks that we are happy thinking about negative things and getting all worked up all the time, it will keep feeding us those negative thoughts so we can be happy.
But if our subconscious hears us saying “I will not think about that” consistently, it will learn over time that we don’t want to think about those things and it will stop sending those negative thoughts or temptations to us. It’s like our subconscious blocks those negative thoughts and temptations automatically.
This principle gradually replaces our habits of anger or whatever with a new habit of peace.
Principle of Freedom 3 – Use your habits of peace to make the best decisions for you and your future. He explained that this is true freedom: the freedom to do what we need to do when we need to do it to become the best that we can be.
When we’re not spending all our time thinking about negative things, we have peace. We can use this peaceful time to think about ways to get along better with others, to do the right things, and to better ourselves for the future.
Coach Anderson said that he’s sure these principles work because he has shared them with all the members of his track team for over 30 years. He said they all have learned to break their habits of anger, fear, and victimhood and create the habits of peace and freedom.
“And those men who learned how to be free are the names you see written on this banner,” he said pointing back with his thumb. “I expect your name to be added to that banner in just a few years.”
He asked Russell if the laws made sense to him. When James responded with a “yes,” Coach Anderson continued.
“Here’s what I want you to do. Every week, pick up a card from that rack by the door there. Keep it in your backpack. There’s a place for your name and there are blocks on the card for each day of the week. Every time a negative thought pops into your mind, I want you to say out loud to yourself, ‘I will not think about that.’ If you’re in class or someplace where talking out loud would be inappropriate, put your hand over your mouth like you’re covering a cough and say softly, ‘I will not think about that.’”
“Then put a check card in the block for that day every time you dismiss one of those negative thoughts. Bring the card back with you next week and put it in the other rack by the door. Then get a fresh card. I predict by the end of four or five weeks, you will be making very few check marks on the card because Freedom Principle 2 will be taking effect in your life. The question now is, ‘Will you do this?’”
Jarvis must have looked a little skeptical because Coach Anderson suggested, ”Jarvis, I suspect that you have a negative thought right now telling you that this idea will never work for you. This is a good place to start.”
Jarvis smiled and said, “Yes, sir.” As he picked up the card and walked out of the office, he said to himself, “I will not think about this.”
Over the weeks that followed, Jarvis found that he really was not thinking as much about the negative things and he was thinking more about what he wanted to do with his life. Soon, he was not thinking about the anger and resentment at all.
Every day, he walked with two other boys from his school to the building where the track team met. In the first hour, they had to do their homework with Coach Anderson and some volunteers serving as tutors.
Three days a week, they worked out on the track. Coach Anderson was really good with running techniques and Jarvis’ speed was increasing every month when they did time trials.
Two days a week, they worked indoors learning about nutrition, hydration, and exercises they could use for strength and flexibility. They also learned study skills, how to speak in front of people, and neighborhood survival skills. The older boys learned how to write resumes, apply for a job, and do well in an interview.
On Saturdays, they had their meets with other community, club, and sometimes school teams from the area. There were always big crowds at the meets; and Jarvis soon noticed that some of the crowd had clipboards and stopwatches. Coach Anderson said these were college and university track coaches that he invited to the meets.
Jarvis was devastated when his grandmother died in her sleep during his ninth-grade year. Coach Anderson went to her service, and later found an opportunity to talk to Jarvis.
“Jarvis, the Principles of Freedom also work for grieving. It’s perfectly normal to be very sad when you lose someone you love.”
“So grieve. Be sad. But when the grief thoughts start to distract you from the things you need to do in your life, you can use Principle of Freedom 1 to keep that from becoming a habit of grief.”
By junior year, Jarvis consistently had an A-B average in school. He was also winning most of his meets running in the 400, 1000, 1500, and 2000 meter events. College coaches were coming to his home to talk with Jarvis and his mother about running for their schools.
Jarvis was also helping Coach Anderson work with some of the younger runners in the club.
He was also developing a plan for the future, but it was too soon to go public with that now.
Jarvis will never forget the day that he graduated high school, signed a grant-in-aid scholarship to run for the university; and most importantly went with a small group of special people, including his mother, to Coach Anderson’s office.
Coach made a little ceremony; the minister of his church said a prayer; and Jarvis signed the banner. He had never been so moved in his life. He actually did cry a little bit.
Jarvis ran track in college and eventually earned All-American honors. He ran in the Olympic trials but didn’t make the cut. He saw that as a blessing when he considered his ultimate plan.
Jarvis had majored in Business with a minor in Community Development. He went to work with a major state-wide utility headquartered in his city.
He could finally share his plan with Coach Anderson because his plan totally depended on receiving Coach Anderson’s blessing.
Over the years, Coach Anderson had spoken several times about retiring. He was over 70 years old and he just didn’t have the energy to head the track program much longer.
Jarvis had Coach Anderson over to lunch in their corporate dining room. When they finished lunch, Jarvis asked him if he was still considering stepping down. When Coach Anderson told him he was, Jarvis asked for permission to show him something.
Jarvis opened his laptop and quietly went through a PowerPoint presentation about what he called the Freedom Track Club. He’d chosen that name because that was what Coach had given him: freedom to be the man that he wanted to be.
He envisioned a club that welcomed all kids from fifth grade to twelfth grade who agreed to he same requirements that Coach Anderson had required.
He pointed out that some really great kids would never be runners; but there was a place for them. There were all sorts of life skills they could learn on their own personal track to Freedom.
He had located a closed school that could be converted to the Freedom Track Center. The school board would lease the property to the track club for $1 a year in exchange for them maintaining the property. There was a run-down track on the property that could be restored.
The Three Principles of Freedom would always be the centerpiece of the program.
Jarvis’ company had agreed to keep him on full-time pay but he could spend half his time working as a Community Liaison. They would let him transition in to full-time liaison as the track club grew.
Jarvis outlined a plan for volunteers to continue tutoring and athletic training; and he wanted to add volunteers to teach health training, track maintenance, grounds maintenance, nutrition, social skills, and more to the kids.
There weren’t going to be any athletic stars. All the kids would be involved in all the growth and development programs they offered.
Jarvis would do the fundraising accompanied whenever possible by older kids to help with the presentations. This would be their training for participating in the world of business and industry.
They would have a club website maintained by the kids.
All Jarvis needed was Coach Anderson’s agreement to stay on the board as Coach Emeritus and his blessing to the plan.
Coach Anderson was thrilled to see his dream expand into new generations. He didn’t notice Jarvis nod discretely to a man across the room.
Jarvis stood as two men, the President and VP of Community Affairs of his company, approached their table. He introduced them to Coach Anderson as the Coach Emeritus of the Freedom Track Club.
They obviously were well aware of Jarvis’s vision and they sat down and committed the power of their offices to raise funds and bring the vision into reality.
As they talked, Jarvis reflected on the twelve-year-old boy who had stood before the judge so many years ago. He was excited and deeply grateful for the opportunity to affect hundreds of lives over the years ahead just like the Principles of Freedom and the Higher Power had changed his life.
This fictional story introduces a principle that has been around for thousands of years. In addition to the Bible, philosophers like Confucius, Marcus Aurelius, Shakespeare, and others have written or spoken about our wonderful capacity to train ourselves not to ruminate on negative thoughts and to minimize the effects of emotional or physical pain in our lives. The danger of ruminating on emotional pain is, in addition to more pain, stress, depression, anxiety, emotional issues, and worse.
Children can easily understand the simple principles of the Three Principles of Freedom. The principles work for many negative emotions that result from almost any negative thinking.
This concept is explained fully in an online eCourse called Finding Personal Peace – http://findingpersonalpeace.com. The course leads you through these life laws and also covers topics like making good decisions, and dealing with serious stuff like death, illness, abuse, and addiction.
The eCourse leads one through a process of turning tje habits of negative emotions into the habits of peace and success. You can read other short stories on life issues by searching the category, Short Stories, at the right.
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