Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Thoughts of a former Young Women's president

Today I learned just how inept I was as a leader serving in the Young Women's organization. I have always known that I wasn't really good at being a leader and that I should have done many things better than I had but all in all, I felt that I hadn't done too bad of a job. Then I got hit with something right between the eyes today that has broken my heart.

A storm has been brewing at our local high school over the banning of a particular book. I first caught wind of it when my son began writing a letter to the editor of the local newspaper.
Let me just say, I am not a big fan of book banning. In most cases I am very strongly against it. I prefer to allow people to govern themselves. However, this book was a required reading assignment which makes things a little different in my mind.
The local newspaper story covering this controversy ran on over many pages, quoting various sources, many of them students. By and large the majority of opinions voiced opposition to the ban with this or that reason as grounds for their view. One opinion in particular stood out more to me than any of the others. This young lady stated that she was against the ban because the over-all message of the book was a good one--if you don't linger on the negative.
Here I had to make myself pause and think this through a while.
My gut reaction is that I failed. I failed this girl. I failed to teach her that you don't have to take the bad to get the good. I failed in my job to support her parents in helping their child learn to navigate wisely through all the traps and snares set around us.
I have to quell my reaction, though, and get my brain working. What is really at play here?
It is the social movement. It is the popular opinion. How easy it is to get caught in that wave when it comes along. In fact, it can be exhilarating to surf that monster and feel right in with the rest of the crowd, emotions running high, we're going to save the world! It feels so good!
The young lady's opinion and supporting "argument" is that you can still get a good message from the book even though you are allowing yourself to be exposed to many things which are contrary to values you say you believe in.
There is water in mud but that doesn't mean that washing your clothes in it will get them clean.
There are countless sources all over the world to find good messages without exposing yourself to things which fall below your standards. Each day is already full enough of garbage all around you--we live in a society where we are in a constant state of high-exposure. Why seek out more trash and voluntarily bring it into your mind? Once it is there, it is there, it is not going anywhere whether you think you are paying attention to it or not.
When we discuss the idea of standing strong and holding to our values, we often picture in our minds a moment where we are faced with an acute situation. It is relatively easy to stand up for something when faced with blatant opposition. We slip so easily into the "hero" mode. When a fire rages up suddenly in your pot on the kitchen stove, you can grab something quickly and with a bit of effort you can usually get the fire extinguished.
It is a more difficult thing to step away from the sweeping wave of the popular, to take a moment to analyze what is really happening, what is really at stake, and think it through for yourself. Sometimes things might seem quite right on the outside, and the bad might not be really that bad maybe? Unlike the pot on the stove, a slow-burning, widespread forest fire requires countless professionals expending amazing amounts of energy and time just to try to contain it.
This is where I failed. I forgot to teach the defenses, the awareness of the slow-burning movements that slip in past us and we don't really notice them so much. They are Popular. No heroics here, just the daily grind of keeping alert, choosing values, and remembering what you stand for at all times and in all things, and in all places.

In the letter my son composed to the editor, he stated his opinion in favor of the ban. His reasoning was that the book is still available in the community so that anyone interested in reading it still had resources to access it. He felt that due to content in the book which exemplified behavior that is contrary to the school's own code of conduct required of students, it is something the school should not be supporting and certainly should not be requiring students to read.
Yesterday my son was in his class at school, looking through his folder for a certain paper and had set a copy of his letter to the side of his desk. Another student in the class picked up the letter and read it. The student immediately showed anger and resentment at my son for supporting the ban and called my son a "Nazi". The student then told other students and they put pressure on my son because of his opinion. Due to the threat my son felt from these students, he did not send in his letter and allowed his opinion to go unheard.
Really, I don't know that I like having my kids enrolled in a school where the education level is so low that their students do not know what a Nazi really is. It is my understanding that the Nazi party was in opposition to the right to free speech. These students showing a threat of force against my son for simply voicing his opinion seems more in line with the Nazi ideal, doesn't it? This student is using a term he does not even understand but is simply copying something he has heard. That is the popular thing to do.
It makes me sad.

I am all for allowing people to govern themselves. However, these are students, our children, and we have a responsibility to keep an eye on them--to watch what they are getting into and what they are up to.
We have an obligation to give them guidance.
The teenage years are the time for kids to learn to make their own choices. They will soon be making all choices on their own. The teen years are practice time to figure it all out, to learn to navigate through life so they eventually end up where and how they wanted to. They cannot do it on their own. If these kiddos are able to make all the choices for themselves at this point in life, then why do they still have parents? Why do they live at home? Why do we give them guidelines and rules?
Making choices is a learning process and our children (even when they are teenagers) need our guidance and our "interference".

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