Crucial Skills®

A Blog by Crucial Learning

Kerrying On

Kerrying On: A Holiday Gift for the Children

Kerry Patterson

Kerry Patterson is coauthor of four New York Times bestsellers, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Accountability, Influencer, and Change Anything.


Kerrying On

Listen to Kerrying On via iTunes

Thirty years ago, after landing my first consulting job, I could hardly wait to get started. For years, I had studied how to change the world and now it was my turn to roll up my sleeves and actually do something. The goal of this particular project was to take an adversarial, punitive, and authoritarian corporate culture and turn it into a productive, team-oriented place. At least, that’s what the plant manager requested.

“And I want it soon!” the agitated manager told me over the phone. “Or heads are going to roll.”

As I drove to the airport on my way to the anxious manager’s factory, I couldn’t help but notice a bumper sticker sported by several of my neighbors. The popular sticker stated rather immodestly—”Irvine: Another Day in Paradise.” Several hours later, as I exited the Wayne County Airport on my way to visit the client, I noticed Detroit’s version of the home-town promotional slogan on a sweatshirt: “Detroit: Where the Weak Are Killed . . . and Eaten.”

Later that day, as I interviewed hourly employees, I got my first glimpse into the rather un-paradise-like nature of the company I was supposed to help fashion into a paragon of cooperation. When I asked the question “If you ran this place, what changes would you make?” the employees immediately started ridiculing their leaders. At one point, they told of a supervisor throwing a heavy ashtray through a plate-glass window and then chopping up a breaker box with a fire ax—you know, to get his team’s attention. Later, during that same interview, a rather animated employee explained that the ashtray-hurling supervisor’s direct reports eventually grew tired of his shenanigans and one Friday afternoon chased him out to his car. When he climbed on top of it for safety, they lit the car on fire!

Then things turned from scary to complicated. As I interviewed a group of supervisors from whence this ashtray thrower came, they (much to my surprise) seemed reasonable and rational—nothing like the slavering maniacs their direct reports had just described. In fact, they appeared rather pleasant. The supervisors did share one thing in common with their direct reports. They had a bone to pick with their own bosses, the superintendents who, in their words, were authoritarian monsters. Of course, when I met the superintendents, they seemed quite professional, and—you guessed it—they pretty much loathed their bosses, the managers.

As it turns out, everyone at this rather frightening factory blamed everyone else for their problems and everyone—based upon the unprofessional actions of their bosses—felt justified in their own counterproductive behaviors. Why? Because everyone deserved whatever you gave them. And this wasn’t a problem unique to this particular factory, city, or region. As my career has unfolded, I’ve run into similarly violent and reactive places all around the country.

Not everyone lights cars on fire, of course, but the idea of dealing back what you’ve been dealt is still widely shared. It seems one of the values reflected in today’s video games, TV shows, and movies has left its mark. All encourage revenge. For instance, the longest running TV show of my generation, started with the “bad guy” riding into town, getting off his horse, spitting on a nun, and pistol-whipping a schoolmarm. Then, for a full 55 minutes, the good guys sought revenge on that pistol-toting bad guy, who, as we all knew, deserved whatever he got. And to this day, this same troublesome theme continues on the screen.

I recently mentioned our seemingly insatiable thirst for revenge to my next-door neighbor and he chuckled softly and stated, “I have the same problem with my own children. They’ll be in the middle of a squabble, I’ll ask one of them what’s going on, and my oldest son will invariably come back with, ‘It all started when he hit me back!'”

“It all started when he hit me back!” What a clever encapsulation of a contemporary malaise. As long as others mistreat us, we can mistreat them right back. Because, well, they deserve it.

I’ve thought about this issue for quite some time, and as many of you know, it permeates our writing. For example, the principle of working on ourselves first from Crucial Conversations suggests we need to think less about exacting revenge on others and more about our own style under stress. Equally true, maybe we shouldn’t mirror the very behavior we loathe. Transforming others into villains and viewing ourselves as heroes also fuels the fires of getting even. In short, in both our training and books we teach that responding to violence with violence is a bad thing, and I believe we’ve made some progress. In fact, in that first factory where a supervisor wielded an ax, leaders learned to effectively handle high-stakes, emotional conversations, and over the next two years violence decreased significantly.

Today, I hope to take this message to a new audience: children. Actually, I’m hoping you’ll pass the message along for me. I know, asking a favor deviates quite a bit from your standard business newsletter, and writing something for children—why that’s virtually unheard of. But it’s my hope that if we can set kids on the right path while they’re still young, they’ll be better prepared for the unrelenting stream of invitations to violence that will most assuredly assault them as they turn on their TVs, play their video games, go to movies, and eventually show up at work.

So, with the children in mind, and in the spirit of the holiday season, I’ve written a rather Seussian children’s tale that I hope you’ll share with the young ones in your world. It’s not about mistletoe, snowmen, and the like, but apropos to the season of love and tranquility, it shares a message of peace—the kind of peace one creates through a healthy and loving response to how others treat us, even when they’re being naughty, not nice. The short (three minute) story is intended to be accompanied by pictures, but I haven’t arranged for the artwork yet. So for this holiday, I plan on reading it aloud to my grandchildren, sans illustrations. You might consider doing the same.

Download Story Here

20 thoughts on “Kerrying On: A Holiday Gift for the Children”

  1. Erica

    What a lovely poem! I love where your writing comes from – deep in your heart – and I enjoy the tone and style of your pieces. I will share this story with my friends and family, thank you for writing and sharing it with us. Great moral.

  2. Jacque Stark

    Very nice. Truly in the Spirit of the Season, it reflects the Spirt of Christ.
    Thank you for the thought and for the effort to communicate it to all ages. I have 37 Grandchildren and their parents to share it with as well as co-workers.

  3. Linda

    Wonderful, wonderful story. Thank you so much for taking such valuable teaching down to the children. I will definintely be reading this to my grandsons and pass it on to the rest of the family as well.

    (on a side note, if you are looking for an illustrator, I will take a moment to “toot the family horn” and let you know that my brother has illustrated children’s books and I can just see some of his characters in this story! I know it’s a long shot, but his e-mail is and this is his website for his music in case you are even a little bit interested.)

    Thank you ~ I always look forward to reading your missives and frequently passing on to family and friends.

    Have a blessed Christmas and holiday season,

  4. Rachelle

    I love the holiday story for kids and I think I’ll use it just after the holidays in a Leadership Book Club discussion on accountability (for our own actions and responses). (The book we are using is QBQ! by John Miller.)

  5. Christine R. Carver

    You should ask for illustrations from the children who listen to the story.

  6. Anne Hull

    Absolutely LOVE your Seussian story! Will post link in my blog and facebook. Thank you. I’m a fan of your newsletter, too.
    – Anne

  7. Diane

    Thank you Kerry for an uplifting and meaningful story that even 40+ year old children can learn from. The freedom of not matching violence literally takes a weight off our shoulders.

  8. Kathy Becker

    Kerry, what a beautiful gift to children, including your own children and grandchildren. This is fun to read, important to read, and full of your creativity and humor. This should go viral. Kathy

  9. Stephen Pellegrino

    I’ve got a budding third grade artist who will likely soon be adding his own illustrations to your wonderful story. thanks.

  10. Karen

    Oh Kerry, what a beautiful gift we can give our children – the gift of practicing peace! And, I whole heartedly believe it is a gift that can change our world. Thank you for the children’s story, I will indeed share it with my 8 and 11 year old girls. My husband and I are on the front lines daily combating the violence that is thrown at them.

    Merry Christmas to you and your family!

  11. Sandy

    I’ve bee receiving the Vital Smarts newsletter for some months now and I have to say that receiving it inevitably brightens my Wednesday mornings. Often they help me feel more grounded and able to work from my better self. Thanks for inspiration and support.

  12. Bill Heffernan

    I have not read the poem, but have to saw I could not agree with your comments more. What frightens me most is how the attitude you describe has permeated our political dialogue. Maybe there never was a time when politicians worked together for the good of the country, but if there was I miss it!

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  14. Laura

    What an impactful story (similar to Suess’ The Lorax)! Thank you for sharing – the language in your poem will certainly resonate with children (I know, because I’ve heard them use the same “yeah, but” phrases… I also love one writer’s suggestion that children provide the artwork for the story. I’ll propose this at my house tonight!

  15. Colin Glover


    No wonder your so successful in this area your such an insightful story teller.

    I think the kids could do the illustrations with maybe a part set aside for the book owner to work through with their family.

  16. bean sagof

    to be contrary: this is just the worst!
    yeah right! i can’t imagine the curmudgeon that would say that. i’m very impressed with this masterful display of multidisciplinary prowess and will save it for when i have children. thankyou for some good spamming material! hopefully it takes off like a virus.

  17. Carmel

    That’s a delightful story-poem Kerry. And yes, it would be wonderful made into a book with illustrations.

    I’ve just worked on the design of a book of children’s quotes about parents called ‘Through Our Children’s Eyes’. As well as obtaining the quotes from children, the author (a delightful, joyous young woman called Margaret Jarvinen) got the children to do the illustrations. It occurred to me that this might be an excellent treatment to give your poem.

    You can download an excerpt from the book at You’ll notice that the book is also a ‘workbook’ to encourage people to follow the same process with their own children. Again … could be very applicable for your message.

  18. Carole Eldridge

    Absolutely delightful! I can’t wait to share this with others.

  19. bean sagof

    ok, ok, i found out what’s wrong with it… it seems to try to supersede the golden rule. rather it doesn’t pay any homage to the golden rule’s place in social interactions, especially with people we’re not all that familiar with.

    most of at least the women i talk to do not want to worry about being allowed to march all over their friends/family. on the contrary, they want to have a safety net (of conscientious friends/family) that is able to put them back in their place if they get too power hungry. for that reason does the golden rule apply to even bad things like violence and abuse. i think we might all have a grandmother or great-grandmother who, when we got into our biting phase as little children, would bite us right back so that we could see what it felt like. undoubtedly, this served to positively influence our future behavior.

    this is exactly why standing up to a bully is supposed to work: they unconsciously tell themselves what they do is ok because they’ve just gotten used to people not providing (what would arguably be) the natural consequences of their bad behavior. So they keep right on until someone cares enough to point out their hypocrisy (i.e. that if they applied the golden rule to their behaviors, then they’d [supposedly] feel some remorse for treating other people that way.) sometimes they keep right on after that, and i think that’s when this anti-yabbit concept (and the next paragraph) are more effective techniques.

    this also points to the role of taking responsibility for one’s perspective that so many have trouble with in one aspect or another. it’s HARD, at least when you’re younger, to get slapped in the face and have the perspective to know, without hearing it from witnesses, that everyone a. disapproves of the slapper, and super A. will help you do something about it if the slapping progresses. knowing these things, without explicit confirmation, serves to guide one’s behavior with a certain perspective that is less likely to lose control. that being said, if the slapping does progress it’s even harder to re-moralize after seeing you were wrong. then where is the line drawn between having an unbreakable perspective and being in denial?

    if what you’re talking about is the lazy mode we get into from time to time (or for long periods!) by excusing ourselves from thinking about better ways to overcome the problem of someone else’s annoying behavior than being annoying right back, then i have applauded the concept. the golden rule certainly lacks in some departments (e.g. what do you do when you’ve found out that your rule doesn’t work for your loved one, like your style of argument or your morning kisses?), but it’s a good starting point until you’ve heard otherwise.

    overall still a great message in a great package that i think will have massive influence on many people… i believe that’s called rock star status.

  20. Kim Roberts

    Greetings Kerry: I have a 22-year old Yabbit in the house, and she’s very skilled at this. I shall present her this present, on Christmas Morn, from my favorite Crucial Conversation author.
    Thanks for a great year and Merry Christmas to the Kerry household!

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