My two oldest sons and I often have talks about “doing the right thing”. Don’t hit your brother, don’t lie, open the door for strangers, always say “please” and “thank you”, and so on. In most cases, it is obvious to adults what choices should be made, but from the perspective of a 6 and 3 year old, clarity is not always present. Nor is the self confidence to stand up for one’s self and others or the self control to keep a level head. One of the many roles of a parent is to guide and bring into sharp focus the differences and the benefits of always taking the high road by making the correct ethical choice.
But life does not always provide us an easy path to walk on when we do make the right ethical choice. This is exceptionally difficult to communicate to my little geeks. You’d think that doing “right” would be “easy”, but that is not the case. The first part of my argument is always focused on doing what is right and just. The second part of my argument is spent grappling with how you should deal with any negative consequences. You should see the confusion on my sons’ faces.
The conversation usually goes something like this…
Father Geek: So you see, you should always do the right thing. For example, if you see a friend or someone you might or might not know on the school bus being picked on by a bully, you should tell that bully to leave the kid alone.
Little Geek: But then the bully will start bothering me, Dad.
Father Geek: Yes, he might. But you did the right thing by telling the bully to stop, and further more, you should tell that bully to leave you alone, and if he doesn’t, you immeditly go tell the bus driver or your teacher when you get to school.
Little Geek: But I’ll see that bully on the playground with his friends and the teachers are not always around.
Father Geek: Right, well, in that case you should just avoid the bully.
Little Geek: But Dad, he’s in my class and rides my bus.
Father Geek: Yes, well…you see….uhm….hmmm….
Clearly, it is not an easy argument to make. So how can you and I, as adults, parents, guardians, and leaders, provide the answer to our children?
Simply put, we cannot. We cannot provide a formulaic condition that will allow our children to complete an easy compare and contrast exercise that will allow the correct choice to be made with absolute certainty and without consequence. It simply cannot be done. Peer pressure, timing, lack of self confidence, and the ever present urge for self preservation oftentimes trumps, or at the very least, makes doing the right thing something tantamount to climbing a mountain naked, in the dead of winter, without the correct equipment. That is to say, difficult, unconformable, and challenging.
I recently watched the television movie, “Field of Vision“, part of the Family Movie Night program that is focused on bringing families together to watch meaningful and relevant content that is meant to reinforce family values and encourage family discussions, while entertaining at the same time. This movie focused on the challenges of doing the right thing and the social consequences of doing so. Peer pressure plays a big part in the overall plot and is portrayed very well when friends (both guy and gal) turn on the individual for doing the right thing. Very true to life, especially when the plot is being played out in a high school environment.
After watching the movie, I wrote a few notes on what I thought were the most prominent parts of the message being communicate.
First, the emotional wrestling that goes on in the mind and heart when you know something is wrong and want to do something about it, but are afraid of consequences. This exists in every aspect of our lives to some degree. Even as an adults we balance speaking out of turn with speaking up for what is right. In the movie, this is portrayed by the main actor, a senior in high school, knowing that what is being done to a new student is wrong, but the individuals responsible are his oldest and best friends. The question of loyalty to one’s self or to a group is called into question. Which is of more value? The right of the individual or the friendship of others? Tricky.
Second, the peer pressure that is exerted on the masses by a few that sets the status quo for all. This is very evident in our youth, but not as visible when we are adults. Although, it is still very present and an active force in our adult lives, just less so and more elusive. In the movie, the high school environment is the major enforcer of the status quo. The roles of the individual students are clearly defined. Jocks are friends with jocks, popular kids are friends with popular kids, etc. And if you think that is just a dramatization, then I would argue you have all but forgotten your high school days. While as individuals, the students might think very differently, there is a “stay with the flock” and “don’t rock the boat” mentality that is ever present and lashes out when disrupted when the student is with the masses. This calls into question one’s sense of self preservation, at least from a social standpoint.
Third, the support from parents and leaders that is exceedingly important to promote and support individuals who do choose to make a stand must be active. In the movie, the football coach, the guidance counselor (who is also the young man’s mother), and the father are there to support and offer suggestions on how best to proceed. What was exceedingly well done (and might have been done on purpose) was how quickly these leaders and loved ones disappeared once the young man was back with his peers, both in physical form and in influence. This just further reinforces the feelings of isolation which are all but intolerable in a high school environment where the majority strives to belong and fit in, or at the very least, be invisible.
These three points have helped me focus my inability to clearly communicate to my children the need to do the right thing. It is very difficult to champion a cause and action that might lead to harm physically, emotionally, or socially. As parents, we do all we can to protect our children, coming just short of putting them in a bubble (which I have sometimes wished I could so). In the end, I am falling prey to the very thing I am telling my children to stand up and fight against. It is so much easier to not rock the boat, to keep in step with the masses, keep your head down, and blend in with the flock. But that is not the right thing. Trying to define the positive is all but impossible as such an act is selfless in nature and is not meant to lavish the individual with rewards.
Ah, there’s the rub! The lack of reward! How true and bittersweet it is to tell my children that they must walk a path that will cause them pain, but will further strengthen them and make them better men and fathers themselves. Never is it harder to be a parent then to know in your heart that you cannot protect your children fully, but must let them go forward on a course where they might very well encounter pain.
But, in the end, what we hope for and teach our children to do is to stand up. Get up and look right back into the face of the opposition and say “I do this because it is right!” I will be torn when my children fall, but will rejoice in their victory when they stand up again and continue to fight for what they know to be right. I cannot offer them weapons, only words and the knowledge that doing what is right is always right, but never ever easy. The reward is in the act and in the knowing that you, above all others, are true to yourself. And in the end, that is the greatest victory of all which no one can ever take from you or hope to spoil.
If the movie, “Field of Vision” sounds like something you would like to watch with your little geeks, the movie premiers Saturday, June 11 on NBC at 8pm ET/7pm CT. Mark it down on your calendar to ensure you don’t miss it. There is also a Facebook page to join if you want to have conversations with others in regards to the movie’s message and the other family focused films sponsored by the Family Movie Night program.
I wrote this review while participating in a campaign by Dad Central Consulting on behalf of P&G and received a promotional item to thank me for taking the time to participate.