Once upon a time...
There lived a little girl named Polly. She lived in a big castle with lots of aunts and uncles. The aunts' and uncles' only job was to keep Polly safe. One night, after watching a scary Japanese movie, Polly said to them, "I'm scared. There is a monster in my closet. It's going to come out and eat me all up!"
The aunts and uncles decided that from now on Polly would live in a different part of the castle, where there were no closets. More so, she was not allowed to leave the castle or watch movies unless one of them approved. Many years passed, and Polly grew into a young woman, but never stepped outside of the castle because she was afraid of the monster.
Polly lived in her castle, relying only on her aunts and uncles to tell her about the wide world outside. She could see out the windows, but that was all. One day, she came to them and said, "I want to go outside. I'm a young woman now and I want to see the rest of the world."
They were horrified. They told Polly, "Oh no!The world is full of monsters! You cannot leave."
Polly was determined, but afraid of what her aunts and uncles told her, so she decided to find someone to help her escape.
The next day, as a stranger rode by, Polly called out, "Stranger, help me escape!"
The stranger replied, "Why?"
"I've been locked up in this castle to keep me safe from monsters. Will you protect me so that I can go out into the wide world?"
"You are a fool. There are no monsters, you should have run away years ago."
Polly was crestfallen. "I'm not a fool. My aunts and uncles told me there are monsters and locked me in to keep me safe. Go away."
The next day, another stranger rode by.
"Stranger, help me escape!"
The stranger replied, "Why?"
"I've been locked up in this castle to keep me safe from monsters. Will you protect me so that I can go out into the world?"
"Your aunts and uncles are stupid liars. They are just locking you up to be mean. You don't need protection, just run away."
Polly was hurt. "Don't you call my aunts and uncles such names! They are protecting me and I've known them my whole life. Go away."
"I hear you want to leave this place."
Polly brightened. "Yes, I do, but I need someone to protect me from monsters."
He replied, "The probability of anyone actually being killed by a monster is really low. There are no monsters here anyway. You don't really need any protection."
Polly shivered. "Oh yes, I do need protection. My aunts and uncles have told me so."
"Well, now. Don't worry your little head. I'm really smart and I know that the likelihood of you getting hurt or killed by a monster is really, really low. You don't need anyone to guide you."
Polly decided to stay put.
So it went day after day. Some days no one came, other days many came by, but they each called her or her family names, or talked in complicated ways that Polly couldn't understand.
Then one day, a man rode up. "I hear you want to leave this place."
Polly sighed. "Not another one. Are you going to call me or my family names, or talk so complicated that I don't understand?"
"I don't think so. What are you afraid of?"
"Monsters. My aunts and uncles told me that they are hiding in closets everywhere. I want to leave, but I'm afraid."
"Hmmmm. Why are you so afraid of monsters in the closet?"
Polly told her sad story.
"Well, I understand how you might be afraid. I studied about monsters and know a lot about them. I'll keep you safe and teach you more while we go explore. My name is Dennis."
"You will?! Let me go tell my aunts and uncles."
The aunts and uncles were aghast. "Dennis came here? Oh, he's a very bad man. You can't trust Dennis."
Polly sighed. "But he seemed so nice."
"Oh, yes, he pretends to be. You can't trust him-he's in league with the monsters."
Polly went back to Dennis. "My aunts and uncles tell me that I can't trust you."
Dennis thought for a minute. "Do you really want to leave this place?"
"Oh yes! But I'm afraid and I want to stay safe."
"If I could prove that I'm speaking the truth, would that help?"
"Yes, it would."
"Can you be a little brave?"
"Well, monsters really scare me."
"I don't want you to get hurt. Just go back to that very first closet and peek inside. Take a flashlight and take a really quick peek. If you see a monster, slam the door shut on his toes and run back to tell me. I believe that you will not see a monster. I think your aunts and uncles were mistaken."
Polly took a deep breath and decided she would at least look. She got a flashlight and ran to the closet. Her aunts and uncles were all shouting that this was dangerous and bad. But Polly wanted the truth. She peeked into the closet with the flashlight and saw only dusty clothes from her childhood.
She threw the door open and turned to her aunts and uncles. "You LIED to me! There wasn't a monster here."
They all cried out, "But there could have been. We were protecting you! You should listen to us. Dennis was just lucky. There are monsters out there."
With that, Polly left.
Polly and Dennis traveled the world and Polly learned all about monsters and closets and what could and couldn't happen. And she lived happily ever after.
The moral of the story: If you want to help someone understand, perhaps you should begin by understanding.
Illustrated by Susan Roberts
Margaret Harding has almost 30 years of experience in the nuclear industry in technical design, licensing, and quality issues. She worked for GE-Hitachi for 27 years with positions of increasing responsibility, leading to vice president of Engineering Quality. Two years ago, she left GE-Hitachi to start her own consulting business to help companies with business ventures in the nuclear industry. She is a guest contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.