Posted by: Mark Nielsen | September 17, 2007

The Bossy Boys: Graham, Dick Cheney & the Bad Examples

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Matt. 5:5 

I find it difficult to live by that principle. But I’m trying real hard… 

My five-year-old son is an only child, and it’s beginning to show in how he acts with other kids. Basically, unless he’s running the show, he doesn’t want to play. You’re either doing it his way, or you’re doing it wrong.

Therefore–in my overly worried mind–he’s either bound to be a friendless, rigid, powerless, self-absorbed nerd, or else he’ll become the stubborn, bullying but charismatic leader of the free world. (Funny question: which path would be worse in the grand scheme of things?) 

I know I’m overreacting. Still, I often wonder if we spoil him. Do we indulge too many of his impulses? Do we restrict or direct his activities enough? I also wonder if we don’t give him enough chances to build cooperative, sharing experiences with his peers. He’s been in preschool, and now kindergarten, but has not had very many non-institutional chances to develop the give-and-take necessary for strong friendships. 

Then again, maybe every five-year-old is a self-absorbed tyrant who won’t take no for an answer, or at least not without a fight.  

The basic question is this: how do we develop a child’s ego strength and independence, while also teaching him/her humility and flexibility? And how much can any of those things even be taught, as opposed to being inherent traits of one’s personality?  I know it’s a bit of both, that parents and teachers model these things as much as they can, but as kids grow, they have to learn much of it on their own. And eventually the kid will learn, probably the hard way. I can’t and shouldn’t try to prevent that. But it’s hard, waiting for that other shoe to drop. 

My son knows, conceptually, what the word “consequence” means. It amazes me how smart he seems sometimes. But he’s still behind in his social skills. Only when kids start walking away, tired of being ordered around, will he truly understand what a consequence is. And it’s going to hurt pretty bad.  I can only hope to be watching closely enough to help him understand what just happened. Then I’ll help him jump back in and try again at the hard compromises necessary to building relationships, instead of licking his wounds and burning his bridges.  

We all know a grownup or two who never learned these lessons: how to relinquish authority (either real or imaginary), how to apologize, how to be part of a team. They tend to be fairly awkward, lonely or unhappy people, in my experience.   

But now and then, this type learns to fake it, and they may even ascend to positions of great authority and reponsibility. I’m thinking of people like Bill Gates (who did learn eventually, to be fair), Dick Cheney, or that boss you had once, whom most of her employees feared and despised. Intelligence, confidence, stubbornness and ambition make for a potent combination. But I’d hate for my son to be like that. I’d prefer he achieve and define success in other more responsible and communal ways. Getting ahead doesn’t have to mean always being selfish and single-minded. 

Yet I can’t prevent the pain of rejection or isolation my son will experience if he persists in his bull-headedness. In the real world, he has to learn to adapt, to cooperate, to follow, and to share.  The alternative is too awful to contemplate, because even the Dick Cheneys of the world have their Moqtada al Sadrs and Kim Jong Ils. So I suppose I really do believe that the meek will inherit the earth… I’m just not sure how, when just about every community on earth values power over meekness.


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