The Friday Column: Questions Young People Ask – Answers That Don’t Work
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Since 1989, the Young People Ask series of books has been failing multiple generations of Witness adolescents

Since 1989, the Young People Ask series of books has been failing multiple generations of Witness adolescents

Growing up a Jehovah’s Witness is an experience that has shaped me in innumerable ways. To be fair, Watchtower’s influence on my young life did give me some benefit. Through my studies I developed reading skills and a genuine love of language at a young age.

I wasn’t afraid to speak in front of my class or to strangers, because I’d been doing talks at the Kingdom Hall and presentations in the field ministry for years. I even formed a few friendships that have lasted throughout my lifetime with peers I met at meetings. Aside from those few things though, I believe Watchtower’s teachings and policies did very little to prepare me for my adult life.

In 1989, Watchtower released the first edition of the book Questions Young People Ask Answers That Work, or the “YPA” book. I still remember being 7 years old and getting my copy at the District Convention. I was so excited to have a book “just for kids” that I could read.

Per my usual methods, I started perusing the book as soon as we got in the car – the pictures and chapter titles getting my attention straight away. There were chapters on parental conflict, time management, and even the great taboo of masturbation, all written with children and adolescents in mind. Though some of the topics were embarrassing, at that time I really believed the book would be able to help me answer any questions I had.

Instead, the opposite turned out to be true. The book was nothing but a propaganda piece with contents that did nothing but attempt to bolster my paranoia of the outside world.

All it did was sweep any real problems I might be having under the rug by offering the one-size-fits-all answer of prayer and guidance from elders for each and every one of them. Though it lacked any true substance, the YPA book soon became the go-to parenting guide at my house – a convenient tool for my parents to turn to when I was going through my teenage years, and a collection of often foolish advice that offered me no real support.

Looking back, I can see how Watchtower’s suggestions in this book and from the podium failed me in my life. The biggest problems for me lay in the areas of dating and marriage. By following the admonition to date with the intention of marriage and constantly using a chaperone, both in person and over the phone, at age 18 I found myself wed to a virtual stranger.

The truth is, though we had the blessing of congregation elders and our parents, my husband and I had never been allowed the time or privacy to get to know each other. At such a young age, frustration with real-life issues mixed with twisted Witness views on male headship, and the clashing of our personalities, led to the relationship becoming physically violent.

After a few attempts at fixing it, including getting some bad advice from the elders, and a situation requiring police intervention and a stay at a battered women’s shelter, I left Watchtower at age 19. Disfellowshipping and shunning soon followed.

The answers didn’t work.

My life experience and that of many of my peers leads me to wonder: Does Watchtower really care about kids?

I recently became aware of a second volume to the book of my youth, and decided to read the PDF download from JW.org. In it I find more of the same misguided nonsense that I grew up with: Witness children being counseled to avoid the world and follow Watchtower’s advice at all costs. Boys groomed to be family heads, while girls are encouraged to take a lesser role.

Reading the bible, praying and speaking to the elders are not the answers to every problem life throws at you

Reading the bible, praying and speaking to the elders are not the answers to every problem life throws at you

Education still takes the backseat to the preaching work. Homosexuality and its urges are described as “wrong desires,” and compared to rage as something that can be quelled. Youths are told to avoid “double lives” by limiting contact with school friends. Only one small section is devoted to eating disorders. And much to my dismay, the dating advice is the same: never be alone together and only date with the intention to marry.

This new volume even includes a questionnaire for both sexes where the man is to evaluate how well his intended “shows submissiveness” when he is deciding to pursue her. There is very little mention of seeking professional or legal help for any issue. The overall solution being offered to all problems remains the same: prayer and reliance on the guidance of congregation elders.

With such counsel being given, is it any wonder that Witness children worldwide are leaving the religion in hoards?

According to a 2008 study from Pew Research, only 37% of people raised as Jehovah’s Witnesses continue with the religion as adults. When you consider the many (a number of whom I’ve privately corresponded with) who stay just to keep the community and familial ties intact, one has to wonder how many stay true believers from childhood on?

It turns out, Watchtower isn’t so good at “inculcating” children as Deuteronomy 6:6-8 instructs. Instead, the organization seem to be setting kids up for failure and their often-inevitable exit from the religion.

So, where does that leave current Jehovah’s Witness children and teens? Between indoctrinated parents and Watchtower offering so little in the way of true guidance, many find themselves feeling overwhelmed and alone.

Fortunately, times have changed, and there are now a variety of ways to get help and direction. In developed lands, everything from help with continuing education, to health services, is easier to access than ever before. A simple Google search can provide links to a number of resources.

Most schools have a counselor or administrator that is willing to listen and offer guidance for life issues. There are toll-free hot-lines and community health programs that can help answer questions or simply provide a confidential way to discuss problems that may be troubling you. And of course, anyone who feels their safety is in danger can always contact a law enforcement officer.

Of course, the answers are rarely easy, but for many Jehovah’s Witness youths, just knowing real guidance is available is important. To any young personreading this article, please know: there really is a possibility for happiness outside of Watchtower. The struggles of life can be overcome, and true freedom from Watchtower’s undue influence is attainable.

 

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Helpful Links:

United States:

National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA)
http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/find-help-support
1-800-931-2237

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
https://www.nami.org/#
Helpline : 800-950-6264

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA)

National Helpline:1-800-662-HELP (4357)
TTY: 1-800-487-4889
Website: www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline

Suicide Prevention Lifeline

1-800-273-TALK (8255)
TTY: 1-800-799-4889
Website: www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org

US Department of Education

http://www.ed.gov/

United Kingdom:

Beat (Beating Eating Disorders)

https://www.b-eat.co.uk/
Helpline 0345 634 1414 Youthline 0345 634 7650

SANE Mental Health Helpline

0300 304 7000
http://www.sane.org.uk/what_we_do/support/helpline/

Student Finance

https://www.gov.uk/browse/education/student-finance

National Union of Students

http://www.nus.org.uk/en/advice/money-and-funding/can-i-get-higher-education-funding-in-the-uk/

References:

http://www.pewforum.org/2008/02/01/chapter-2-changes-in-americans-religious-affiliation/

https://www.jw.org/en/bible-teachings/family/teenagers/young-people-ask-volume-2/#?insight[search_id]=acdd11fd-1927-4a2a-a8ce-3ab44e68aa12&insight[search_result_index]=1

https://www.jw.org/en/bible-teachings/family/teenagers/young-people-ask-volume-1/#?insight[search_id]=70e41d46-f1ea-4443-9c15-1225cb05300d&insight[search_result_index]=2

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269 Responses to The Friday Column: Questions Young People Ask – Answers That Don’t Work

  1. ruthlee says:

    Umm some great comments here. Lets talk about sex in jw land. It’s the horns of a dilemma is it not? Basically they cannot deal with two people getting together for any reason can they. The end always has to justify the means. You have to fit a perfect profile or you don’t fit . That is such a daft assumption and makes for some very false marriages. Seeing as god instituted the arrangement surely having all these celibate dudes and frustrated sisters is not healthy. Even jews had bonkubines(concubines) so the women could fulfil their need of children. Jdubs are mainly made up of weirdos, deadbeats and dropouts so by definition have problems with sex and sexuality. No wonder they allow unhealthy men to prey on the kids and don’t remedy the situation. It seems to me if you ignore a healthy discussion on the basic needs of all humanity, nature has a way of taking the issue into her own hands. So they produce a crop of guilt ridden teenagers who have no means of relief and call it “self abuse”. They have a plethora of sham marriages (not all ) just to keep up appearances. And a bunch of sad sexless dead people who often turn quite nasty at the drop of a hat. Funny isn’t it, if you don’t believe in hell you create your own on earth. I tend to agree one should not experiment with sex as an immature teen but get on with qualifying for the real world. Trouble is the org do not encourage education as uni is a hotbed for sex. So they encourage pioneering which as we know leads to early inappropriate marriage and no job. Wisdom does not produce scared sexless or sex fuelled uncontrolled people, Ignoring peoples needs does.ruthlee

    • Winston Smith says:

      @ruthlee
      Great comment – A concise analysis of the issues the JWs have with sex. To your point, when it comes to sex thinking people need to strike a reasonable balance.
      WS

  2. anonymous4 says:

    Re: Elders not being qualified therapists / counsellors.
    It amazes me how, just by reading the bible, a person can feel like he / she is an expert on EVERYTHING.
    Imagine the pilots of a 747 being incapacitated, and someone jumping up & saying, “I can land the plane! I’ve read the bible!!”

  3. TeraG says:

    My biggest problem growing up jw was finding other girls my age to be friends with. The congregation I grew up in only had 1 other kid in my age group but he was a boy and right there makes it an unacceptable close friend according to witness rules. I remember praying, no, pleading with god over and over that someone my age would move into my congregation. All the while I was without friends and the societies solution to my problem was stay away from bad influences(ehem, all the potential school mate friends I could’ve had) and form friends with older ones in the congregation if I had too. I loved the older ones, but come on, at a young age what older person likes playing tag, video games or barbies and can follow an intense pretend drama of who wants to go shopping with Ken that an 8 year olds mind drums up. It’s just not as enjoyable or possible to make the types of connections sought after with those not in ones age group that are so important for young kids growing up. Being raised JW sucked.

    • anonymous4 says:

      Growing up JW is a mild form of child abuse.

    • Anon says:

      I hate it.. 🙁 & i can’t wait to leave.

      • Art Fern says:

        ANON, wish you the very best, my friend. Don’t allow yourself to feel alone, friendless and isolated, please connect with other Apostates for support. You will discover that contrary to the BS they have filled your head with, there are so many wonderful, giving and good people in the world. Get your education, use the god given talents, you have been told to bury and not develope. You have freedom and lots of people to meet. Best of Luck!

    • Art Fern says:

      All this isolation contributes to the social retardation so many have written about. The previous comments have been excellent. Dating is a need kids have for a million reasons, to develope self confidence, to begin to understand the opposite sex the different goals and motivations other people may have, to share in experiences a guy would ordinarily avoid such as concerts even opera as well as interests that a guy may have but not so much with a girl such as hiking, working on cars etc. We all have the need to see ourselves through others eyes, (looking glass imaging) interaction tells us what people consider our strengths as well as weak points we can work on. To restrict dating to official chaperoned formality with a sole reason being marriage is petty heavy stuff most 16-21 years olds would rather not get into. I probably had more fun with casual contact having a girl from school driving by to ask me if I wanted to browse a bookstore, see a movie or go with a pile of kids to a theme park than any formal arrangement.
      I can see how this divide between worldly and JW kids limits the people you could date to a degree that panic might set in. You’re getting pushed about marriage to save you from messing up, but you might have just 2-3 people you could date and none of them produces an attraction, so where do you go?
      This is just another way the WT produces conditions, you must live under, that are harmful to your happiness and a healthy mental outlook.

  4. natty says:

    You are too dry with nothing worthwhile to say.

    • anonymous4 says:

      WTF???

    • Anon says:

      U need education

    • Art Fern says:

      Natty, with all due respect do you sometimes use the label “VoiceofTruth”?

    • Covert Fade says:

      @natty What does hydration have to do with this?

      If you wish to engage with the article, come up with a detailed counter argument to the viewpoints and arguments it raises. You’ll find that if you do so in a respectful manner, people will engage likewise and the discussion will start.

      Otherwise, if all you can do is throw childish insults, we will treat you accordingly.

    • TheVoiceofTruth says:

      edit- post deleted due to the fact it contained abusive and vicious personal attacks on another commenter, and no actual argumentation to engage with. Please engage with civil discourse or do not engage at all. Repeats of this kind will not be tolerated and you will be banned. This is your only warning.

  5. Jeni says:

    I just wanted to take a quick moment to thank everyone for their commentary on my piece. I almost decided to scrap the topic as I felt it may have been too generic. However, based on the comments here and the messages I’ve received through other channels, it seems I’ve hit a chord with readers.

    To those of you commenting that your experiences were not like those of myself and some of the many others posting, all I can say is you are fortunate. Not every JW parent is so naive in raising their kids, and not every JW marriage is unhappy or mismatched. I have found that there are great differences in experience depending on which congregation you attended.

    I can only give you my personal accounts, which are of a girl who grew up in a small (75 members at best) congregation in Nebraska. During my time as a member, the elders were very unquestioning and by-the-book on everything. Because it was such a small group, nothing went unnoticed. Everyone was accounted for. Nobody had any privacy or leeway. If you missed a meeting, they wanted to know why. If you reported less than 10 hours of service you were addressed about it. If you even spoke regularly to a member of the opposite sex, it was noted and monitored. For me, it was a very suffocating way of life.

    • Winston Smith says:

      @Jeni
      Thanks for the article and for sharing your personal experience growing up as a JW. I grew up as a JW in the Northeastern US and had a similar experience to the one you describe.

      WS

    • Art Fern says:

      Jeni, I made a comment solely about education and the GB asking for money, and I received a “Hold for Moderation”. Do you have any idea how a comment not too controversial with no name calling and having nothing to do with sex, received such a label?
      Clearly I thought your article was excellent, I’ve put in hours reading each comment and responding way too much with my own. You wrote in such a way as to really motivate others to write of their feeling and experiences. Thank You!

      • Winston Smith says:

        @Art
        I’m not an expert in the nuances of web blogging, but I have found comments get held up if you are on different IP address or something is funky with your connection. In the past there was an issue with what had been termed “JW trolls” who used some type of rotating IP address so they could not be blocked.

        WS

    • Art Fern says:

      Jeni, yours wasn’t a congregation, but a JW maximum-security prison. Holy Moly, how can you built character by preventing people from moving outside the very, very, narrow rule book, forcing obedience, not by free choice but by using coercion?

  6. Jen says:

    I do appreciate you acknowledge you gained something from the experience, and it seems like you really had some foolish people who were driving you to be a certain way…the young people book was something I remember getting when I was a teen. I devoured it and subsequently felt there was something wrong with me…I couldn’t subject myself to some of their rules and advice, but the things that did resonate were where they advocated for understanding in the Christian home…then go to the elders…there was some accountability for youths to show appreciation…and if you didn’t, you might have to talk with an older one…
    I guess what I appreciate about what you write here is a longing for real meaty truth …not to be patronized. Many youths that have no rearing at all with anything spiritual( things of God) also have desires to do right, and have very intelligent parents that guide them to do so….what is sad, if they truly were looking to God for direction, they should have written a book ” parents, do not be exasperating your children, but continue teaching them the glorious things of God by your great example” or “don’t be a stupid idiot, get a real job, be a good provider and treat all in your family with the love of Christ” ….but ….that would have been Much too practical.

    • anonymous4 says:

      Someone once made an observation that “Honor ur father & ur mother” is 1 of the 10 commandments, but there is no commandment ordering parents to honor their kids.
      More evidence of that Bronze / Iron Age patriarchal, misogynistic, backwards, tribal, goat-herding mentality.

  7. Anon says:

    What I hate is that I probably have to get baptized so I could run away from all this mess. >_> UUGHH I just want my parents to realize everything.. but they’re so DUMB!

    • Winston Smith says:

      @Anon,
      Why do you feel that you HAVE to get baptized?

      WS

      • anonymous4 says:

        Maybe so he / she doesn’t get kicked outta the house. (Remember, Religious Freedom only works 1 Way with Jehovah’s Witnesses.) I would say, do what ya gotta do until u can get an education & get the hell outta there.

    • Covert Fade says:

      Anon.
      Whatever you do, do NOT get baptised.

      From your comment I assume you are young and living with your parents? If so use this time to study, do really well at school, work out what career you want. When you come of age, if your parents will not allow you to live you own life, find yourself a job that will pay your bills and move out.

      It may be that your parents never realise everything but do NOT let their actions dictate your future life.

    • Caroline says:

      Dear Anon. I agree with everybody’s comments about not getting baptized. That is the worst thing you can do.

      One thing you might do is ask them to prove that God chose the Organization in 1919. They won’t be able to do it. Ask them to find out what was being printed in 1919 so you can prove it to yourself what Jesus and Jehovah supposedly approved of when he chose his one and only organization to be his spokesman to mankind in that year. Ask them if the Organization was preaching the cross, Christmas and celebrating birthdays, then what could be wrong with those things now? Is new light, new light, or does it mean changes? Does the Bible change? If the “new light” is from God, then that new light should never change, i.e. the generation teaching.

      If you have the 2012 Watchtower bound volume, you can take them to the September 15 study article called “You know Neither the Day Nor the Hour” and on page 25 paragraph 11, there is an out and out lie that the Watchtower printed when it said:

      “Recall Jesus’ parables of the virgins and the talents. If the virgins or the slaves in those parables had known when the bridegroom or the master was arriving, they would not have needed to keep on the watch. But they did not know, so they needed to keep ready. Although the anointed had for decades looked to 1914 as a marked year, they did not clearly understand what would happen. When things did not take place as they expected, it could have looked as if the Bridegroom were delaying. One brother later recalled, “A few of us seriously thought we were going to heaven during the first week of that October [1914].”

      How you can prove this is a lie is to go to the “Jehovah’s Witnesses, Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom” book on page 133 in the last paragraph on that page and the footnote at the bottom of the page where it says that Russell taught that Jesus’ invisible presence had begun in 1874 and the Watchtower taught that until 1943.

      So, the 2012 Watchtower article was clearly lying when it said that Watchtower Organization had been on the “watch” since way before 1914. They weren’t on the “watch” since they taught until 1943 that Jesus had already been present since 1874. They missed the appointment.

      Have your parents answer that for you. Maybe then they might see how the Watchtower likes to rewrite history and thus, are liars.

      • Robert67 says:

        All of these were recycled teachings from other denominations in Christendom that pre date Russels “prophecies” by decades. This entire organization as proved by their libraries at headquarters is nothing, but a cut and paste version of other denominations in order to move the product with free mentally enslaved labor. Thank God for the Internet, the truth truly has set us free, words of a real prophet.

  8. dee says:

    An elder once told me that I shouldn’t be too concerned about getting married because sex is just like the urge you feel to eat when you get hungry, it is nothing more than that. This comment came from an elder who used to be a C.O.and who was married for some time with three children……….apparently his sex life and marriage weren’t so great…….I wonder what he tells his children.

    • Art Fern says:

      The Elder has mush for brains. It makes me a little angry that a person others come to for advice has such a twisted opinion of sexual intimacy. But on the other hand I feel sorry for what he has missed in his marriage. Couples that are together solely for sex soon tire of each other. Those who have such love for each other and a strong committment to their marriage, that they place the happiness of their spouse above their own, can enjoy a lasting and beautiful experience being intimate. And it will never gets old or boring. It’s a package, holding hands, holding each other as well as sex, and it’s NICE.
      That’s what a single guy who was married for 20+ years (good but for the last 3) thinks

  9. anonymous4 says:

    Re: Anon & baptism

    I certainly would not ENCOURAGE Anon to get baptized. But he / she needs to think of his / her future. Having a roof above & food to eat while getting a proper post-secondary education, or at least a DECENT job (NON-minimum wage, with benefits & advancement). Family (parental) friction could interfere with that process. NOT getting baptized could lead to such friction. Now, of course, this depends on how fanatical the parents are. If they’re not that insistent, then hopefully no worries. But if there’s a lot of pressure, then, like I said, do what ya gotta do. After all, Baptism is meaningless. It’s just a dunk in a pool. I don’t know about u, but taking a dip has never changed my life. It’s what’s inside that counts. If u have to be a phoney S.O.B. for a few years, who cares? Play along. We’re talking SURVIVAL here. I don’t judge. & who knows, Anon may get so good at it, he / she may have a successful career in show business. Keep those options open. 😉

  10. Matias says:

    I have found a way to fight the watchtower. Take all the magazines in their carts and throw them away. It might seem childish, but is a solid way of making the watchtower lose money. I took 30 today. I bet I’ll make them lose a few hundred dollars over the course of the year.
    It would be nice to read an article about creative ways of fighting the watchtower

    • Join-Stay25Yrs-Leave says:

      I can understand why you might want to do that. But it’s a bit more than childish, it’s maladjusted. It is also criminal. Nor is it a solid way of accomplishing anything other than proving to JWs that “apostates” are “mentally diseased. It puts you at risk of trouble with the authorities, too. You might want to find a more positive way to battle the WT.

  11. Anon says:

    Am I the only one who interpreted the JW’s policy of never date alone as never be in a private places i.e. motel rooms, empty homes, etc? Even before I awoke, I’d go out with a few JW girls in my adolescence w/o chaperone because as far as I was concerned whether we were in a theater, dinner, or park, as long as we stayed in a public places, we were never “alone.”

    • Covert Fade says:

      I encountered that as the predominant rule as well, but found that this tended to vary from congregation to congregation. My girlfriends and the “rules” they followed ranged from “my brother must be no less than 3 feet from us at all times” (that relationship didn’t last long) all the way to girls who were happy to chill out with me alone in a house together (though we didn’t advertise that.)

      I suspect there is wild and uneven variation on the exact strictness of the rules, depending on the underlying culture of the congregation.

    • Art Fern says:

      The process of moniteered, formal dating seems to be akin to only showing each other your own artificiality for as long as it takes to either be pressured into marriage by parents, elders and your warm conditionally loving congregation or until the very natural pressure to release your pent-up hormones becomes too great and you marry or blow it all up in flames. I was as virginal as could be when I married as was my now ex. She was a huge flirt and tease but I doubted she had gone too far from his disgust of intimacy after we said I Do.
      I casually dated constantly from the time friends could drive and then a year later on when I turned 16.(I was a year younger than others in my grades, and a fine target for the bullies who were kids that had been held back two or three times weighing twice my weight, but that’s another story)
      The beauty of living in a great small city with little crime, drug use, no poverty etc. was the freedom most parents allowed their teenagers. Two kids arrested for pot violations were expelled, ending up in rehab programs, never to be seen ago. This brought about ran(DUMB) police and school district security examination of lockers and student vehicles where nothing was ever found, it was a safe place. After school the car people made the rounds picking up a carload and off to a game, movies, or hanging out at nearby university campuses trying to act like you belonged. It was all informal, un-chaperoned fun, and a great way to learn how to act around the opposite sex and feel comfortable in losing the fear.
      My first marriage was rotten, but not because of anything having to do with dating, rather my ex successfully hid who she was added to my stupidity in assuming that if I played by the rules, what could go wrong?
      With so much pain (suicide, divorce, spousal abuse, shunning) how can the GB continue to spew all these draconian rules regulating relationships, when they don’t work for all but a lucky few? I didn’t know a lot about sex, but I did know about dating and I admired and respected women for their intelligence, confidence, oh…and….those incredible curves. Again how can you get to that point by merely acting your way thru dating with a chaperone? Can you let your hair down and reveal who you are and how you think? Can you respect women as being at least equal to guys, do you learn how to uplift each other with kindness and positive encouragement? The male #1 doctrine as well as blame the women for mans failings, do mother but create monster men and women repressing their feelings of rage.

      • Art Fern says:

        Whoops!
        Should be From THIS disgust, not HIS disgust. Don’t you hate when that happens and letters do not survive hitting the “POST” button.
        No, Voice of Truth, I am not gay.

      • anonymous4 says:

        Re: “The male #1 doctrine…do…mother men…”
        I always say, I have 1 mother, I don’t need another.

  12. Art Fern says:

    [War and Peace-length comment deleted. Please refer to our posting guidelines before making further comments, and try to remember that a comment is a comment, not an essay in need of its own web page.]

    • Art Fern says:

      Sorry, I am a verbose pig, I get going and it’s like trying to stop a locomotive. My first 500 word essay was 1700 words long, the teacher sent me to the principal believing my mother did the writing. Every other essay was exactly 500 words. I think I need take a commenting vacation, it’s been great folks

      • anonymous4 says:

        Yeah sure. Looking forward to hearing from u in a couple days. lol

        • Art Fern says:

          Whoops didn’t take that long. I am sorry for all the mistakes. I barely function as it is, but at 3 or 4 am, I got nothing. And it’s certain I can’t get anything past you Eagle Eyes

  13. Blue says:

    The main reason that a lot of JW men end up being abusive is because this religion teaches people to repress anger which can lead to MORE problems down the road, not to mention an easy target for bullying.

    I’ve come to the conclusion this is not a good religion to raise my kids in.

    As far as the few benefits of it in the early years, I’ll read them children’s books.

    It’s just not worth the long term trama of making them JWs.

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