Boys will be boys…
Perhaps I’m alone on this but it seems as though this phrase was once uttered with bemused warmth and affection. Now it is more often accompanied by annoyed eye rolling. Like muttering that “boys will be boys” on the playground is akin to some comment about slack, sub-par parents and the unruly ruffians they are raising. Or…the phrase can also be offered as an unearned pass for bad behavior. A strange nod to the notion that itty bitty disobedient dudes should be excused for their naughtiness simply because they are boys. It would seem we’ve drifted from the wonderful reality that yes, boys will be boys, and one day they will need to be men.
I can definitively say that boys are absolutely, unmistakably different from girls. As much as we seem to want to gender neutralize everything from clothes to careers any parent who has been blessed with both isn’t coming clean if they don’t adamantly admit that boys are delightfully different. From the mindboggling level of physical energy to the way they play, create and communicate…It’s just plain different and THAT is a wonderful thing. So when we say, “boys will be boys” exactly what characteristics are we encouraging?
When we had our first grade conference for Race, our seven year old, his truly marvelous teacher informed us that a small group of boys who played football together during recess were getting a little aggressive and competitive. Now I completely understand her need to mention it and put us on careful notice. But did we go home and have a talk with Race about taking it easy on the playground? To just have fun tossing the football around with his buddies instead of making a game of it? With a score? And therefore a winner and a loser? Oh geez! Not a winner and a loser! We can’t have that! Someone’s feelings might get hurt and a budding wide receiver may have his confidence shaken. I called around and every trophy making company I spoke with said they no longer engrave the words “champs” or “champions” on trophies. I’m just kidding. I didn’t make those calls, but there can be no doubt that the benign and lifeless term “participant” has been steadily nudging out the more accurate and authentic acknowledgment of winners and losers. It’s like we’re afraid kids view the words winner and loser as damaging labels instead of an accurate assessment of effort. If you won, chances are you worked, trained and focused more diligently. If you lost, it isn’t time to whine, it’s time to work harder.
So when I hear that Race is being aggressive and competitive when he plays football at recess, I breathe a sigh of relief knowing that our boy has got the instincts to be a man someday. Now before anyone gets wound up about the notion of encouraging aggressiveness, let’s please acknowledge that aggressive behavior is not mean behavior. The two exist and they are NOT one in the same. The world should have no place for mean and malicious. But it takes grit to stand up to and stare down that beast. Whether you are a man or a woman, aggressiveness is an absolutely necessary component of change. If we want to raise men (and women) that have the guts to take on challenges, difficulty, effort or injustice, they damn well better be aggressive or they’ll get plowed over by everyone else’s ideas and opinions. There is an undeniable element of aggression and competitiveness in every aspect of progress, innovation and change. All of these endeavors require the courage to own a belief and the forcefulness to fight for it. The reality is that we WANT boys to be aggressive because we long for men that are brave enough to fight for what matters. Every woman wants a man that will fight for his family, his ideals, and his principles. But mostly she wants a man who will fight for her. Not fight her battles, fight for HER. For her love, her trust and her belief…in him. The epidemic of “giving up”; giving up on hopes, dreams, expectations, intentions, meaning and marriages comes, in part, from the relentless, errant message of “be nice.” Nice? Who the hell wants or needs nice? What has nice ever done or accomplished? Nothing. Compassion? You bet! Kindness? In spades! Empathy? Always. Nice? Ugh! We don’t need to teach boys to be nice we need to teach them to love that wild, unpredictable, slightly dangerous truth of what it means to be a boy.
To finish my story of Race’s parent-teacher conference, his teacher went on to say that these same aggressive, competitive boys had been the ones who readily welcomed a new little guy that was struggling and scared about a new school. Did they need to pull him aside, ask him what was wrong, how he felt and be nice to him? Nope. Football, the game, their playing with and taking on one another…this was their language. And there is NOTHING they could have said that would have made that boy feel more wonderful than the act of including him in their rough and tumble time together.
Bottom line; boys will indeed be boys. Wild, wonderful, and certain of themselves. We need to spend more time concerning ourselves with loving what they are - realizing we are encouraging and creating the men they can become. Men that have the courage to fight for what they believe in. The competitiveness that refuses to believe that “good enough” is ever enough. And the aggressiveness to turn their unfettered fondness for fire breathing dragons and swashbuckling sword fights into being our larger than life heroes someday.