Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Talking to Your Child About Courage

Man, with a title like that you'd hope I have some answers.  I don't, sorry.

Over at The Heat Lightning, newly-anointed senior editor John Spain and I have been talking about the Boys Scouts of America.  If you don't feel like clicking the link, here's the boiled-down version:

1) As a teen, Spain got a lecture from a scout master for saying goddamn and quit because the other boy scouts were a bunch of pot heads and he felt the scout master's lecture was ill-founded and hypocritical.  On THL, he questions the relevance of an organization with such an outdated moral code.

2) Curtis has a seven-year-old son named Dylan who joined the Cub Scouts this year.  Curtis claims the Boys Scouts are an excuse to start conversations which otherwise barely come up - things like character, loyalty, trustworthiness, etc. - and that the national tenets don't filter down to the local packs.

Over breakfast, we took a shot at Cub Scout Wolf Achievement 12, "Complete the Character Connection for Courage."  Discuss what courage is with your family?  No problem.  Give some examples of when it is hard to do the right thing?  You've got it; and thanks for the examples.   Discuss times it might take courage to be honest and kind?  I think you just re-phrased the last one, but sure.  

Tell about a time in your life when you needed to be brave or courageous to do the right thing.

And here's where I run into the same brick wall I always run into with Dylan; how do you talk to a seven-year-old?  I was a born-again Christian for a couple of years.  A few years after I quit the church, one of my best friends started the born-again thing.  I could've been supportive, as we usually are with our friends, by telling her how happy I was that she'd found something she'd enjoyed, that she was looking for answers, etc.  Or I could do what I did, which was question everything.  I brought up inconsistencies between what they taught and what the bible says.  I told her she'd bring my concerns to her fellow parishioners and her pastor and they would tell her exactly how to feel about it, rather than letting her think for herself.  I planted the seeds which led to her eventually leaving the church.  She's an out, proud lesbian now.  The world won that round; we need more lesbians and less born-agains.  In fact, make that my campaign slogan.

Having that conversation was scary.  My stomach was in my chest most of the time, but I wanted to tell her exactly how I felt. Unfortunately, our relationship was strained after that night.  We remained friends, but were never as close as we'd once been.

Without thinking too hard, I can come up with at least three examples like that from my past.  Sometimes truth kills.  And you can argue that if someone can't take the truth then he / she was never your friend, but bullshit like that doesn't salve the pain of losing a friend, of seeing that guarded look in someone's eye, like you're a haunted house filled with truth ghosts.

I'm weaker than I used to be.  There have been a few times in recent years when I've balked at telling how I really feel, in service of not making waves, or ruining a mood, or hurting feelings.  I've been afraid to risk confrontation so I've kept schtum.  Does this make me a better friend, or worse?

I don't know myself.  And explaining all this to a seven-year-old is impossible.  I love you and I want you to be strong, but sometimes being strong means being lonely. . . I don't want you to encourage hate and prejudice by being silent, but speaking out against it will likely open you up to ridicule. . .

Wait, I've got it.

Dylan, pink is your favorite color.  It shouldn't just be your favorite color at home.  You should have the courage to tell your classmates that pink is your favorite color.  You should never be afraid to be yourself.  You'll feel happier with honesty than trying to make others happy by choosing things you don't really love.  And if someone makes fun of you, then they weren't your friend anyway.

What do you mean bullshit like that doesn't help?


  1. I think it's great you're talking to Dylan about courage and to be himself. I love that he should tell everyone he loves pink without being afraid of ridicule! Being yourself is definitely a strong character trait.

    As for whether a good friend tells the truth or stays quiet to avoid hurt feelings... well, I think you can tell the truth, but have to watch your approach and tone. Bombarding someone with your opinion can make the other person automatically defensive. Sometimes you have to be gentle and remind someone you're giving advice because you care, not because you're trying to prove you're right.

    I always want you to tell me the truth... but you know, don't make me mad about it!

  2. We're only talking with Dylan about important, character-developing stuff because The Boys Scouts make us. That's why I love them. You think, "We're good people; he'll learn from our example." But how true is that? If you examine the time we actually spend together, the example I'm setting is one of nutritious meals, treating your wife well, and reading a lot. Maybe not the worst things to learn, but. . . I don't know. It's easy to get lazy about it. I want the dialog open. I want him to know we think about shit besides getting out the door on time, or proper tooth-brushing technique, or whatever.

    Sometimes you have to be gentle and remind someone you're giving advice because you care, not because you're trying to prove you're right.

    Lovely. I think that might have been the exact tone of the conversation I use as this example. And while I was right, being right, in the way I presented it, didn't endear me to her.