Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Voice in Our Head

As part of the requirements for this year's cub scout badge, P needed to talk with a parent about courage and the challenge of doing the "right thing" when it wasn't easy. There were multiple scenarios in his handbook, but we only had to pick four and write his response to each. I handed the book over, let him read each one and decide on the four we would discuss. They were mostly about peer pressure; your friends want you to steal candy from the store/whistle at a blind person's guide dog/pick on the new kid/etc., and I was curious to see what he would say. My boy is a born leader. I see it on the playground and at school. People follow him, not usually the other way around. I would hope that given any of the above situations, he would rise above. His answers were textbook "I wouldn't do it", thanks in part to all of the anti-bullying messages at school and (hopefully) our modeling at home. But I wanted to dig a little deeper. When I asked him why he wouldn't steal the candy, he answered that he didn't want to get arrested. When I asked what he could do instead of picking on the new kid (who, in this situation also had a physical disability), it took a lot of prompting before he said he would ask the kid to sit near him and strike up a conversation. I started thinking. Are we hard-wired to be compassionate toward others, or is that something we learn through observation and living? We talk a lot about following the rules and doing the right thing, but will my boy only follow through with that message when he is worried about the consequences? As a child, I was always afraid to do anything wrong because my parents had put the fear of God in me. Sin and you will be punished. To this day mom will say things like, "See. That's what happens." when I stub my toe after mouthing off. (On the flip side, she also believes that the key to success and the prevention of illness is thinking positively.) So what drives us to "do the right thing" and be compassionate? Is it God? The law? Some sort of internal compass? Your mother? Whenever P gets in trouble for making bad choices, I tell him to imagine me on his shoulder saying, "Do you think this is a good idea?" I hope that as he gets older and the choices go from picking on the new kid to experimenting with drugs and alcohol or other teenage stuff I'm completely not ready for, that he will find that voice inside his head. And it is loud and screechy, just like mine.

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