Growing up as the only Jewish boy in Sheridan, Wyoming presented its own set of unique consequences for Max Wachtel. One of them was learning how to keep a low profile in the schoolyard. As you can well imagine Max experienced his share of uncomfortable moments in the classroom, but the playground was even worse. He learned early on that the best way to keep from being the target of open hostility was to quietly mind his own business … especially if something was happening that he alone seemed to find morally offensive.
So Max kept quiet when the other schoolboys found a turtle and decided to make a turtle ski jump out of the 35’ high and very steep steel slide on the playground. By the time the fourth boy climbed to the top Max was feeling very uncomfortable, though he couldn’t quite put a name on the feeling. On the fourth time down the Slide of Doom the turtles landed on its back so hard that the shell cracked. The boys stood stunned and silent. When the bell rang signally the end of recess the leader of the gang gingerly picked up the turtle and set it the grass.
That afternoon and ever after none of the boys, not even Max ever talked about what happened on the playground. Like many, or maybe even most, boys his age Max wasn’t taught how to recognize his own emotions. In fact, he received positive feedback for remaining unaffected and calm no matter what was going on around him. Unfortunately, that kept Max from learning to recognize and regulate his emotional responses. Instead, he learned to stuff his feeling down and ignore them. Eventually, he came to take great pride in his ability to remain stoic and unshakeable. He also noticed that over time it became harder and harder to relate to how anyone else was feeling.