We have failed our boys.

We have failed our boys. Every day I see more and more boys who say they don’t want to read. Knowing how to read but choosing not to is the same as being illiterate. The result is the same whether they know how to read but don’t or they never knew how. Every day I see boys who – if they read at all, read far below their age level, only able to read books that have many pictures in them. They are either unwilling or unable to read a book that has only words in it. They choose graphic novels and comic books if they choose books at all. There’s a whole series of books geared towards boys now that are written very simply and have many illustrations in them. It is as if they need training wheels in order to read. It is a disturbing trend.

Then if they read, the subject matter is concerning. Their parents steer them toward “boy” books. “Girl” books are about relationships – sharing, making friends, learning how to compromise. “Boy” books are about relationships as well – dominating others, being a soldier, being in charge. They learn this script too well. They learn that they must control every relationship they are in. They learn nothing about sharing or cooperating. Anything other than domination is seen as a failure. It is easy to see that it is impossible for everyone to be a winner with such a scenario. This sets them up for a lifetime of disappointment.

We have failed our boys. By telling them that “boys don’t cry” we are telling them that they are not allowed to express their emotions. Those feelings have to go somewhere. When you don’t allow someone to cry the feeling turns around upon itself and transforms, metastasizes, goes dark.

We have failed our boys. When we say “boys will be boys” to excuse bad behavior we’re saying that they don’t have to try better. We’re saying that there’s no reason for them to act in a respectful manner. Any behavior that you would want to see in your boy when he grows up into a man should be encouraged when he’s young. When we let boys get off the hook from punching others or pulling on girl’s pigtails (or worse forms of abuse), we are saying that they are not accountable for their actions.

Is all of this why so many acts of violence have happened recently? Is this why so many boys and young men have decided to express themselves, to be heard, to be noticed, by taking a gun into a public place and shooting random strangers? Have we done this to ourselves?

More importantly how can we make it stop?

Thoughts on the latest terror attack

In this time of unrest, let us listen to these wise words from people from all over the world and all across time. Let us remember that we have a choice.

“Heracles was journeying on a narrow road when he saw what looked like an apple on the ground. When he stepped on it, the object instantly became twice as big. Seeing the extraordinary growth, Heracles stepped on it with both feet and smashed it mightily with his club. As result, the thing expanded so rapidly it blocked the road. Heracles threw down his club and stared at it dumbfounded.

The goddess Athena appeared to him then and said, “Dear brother, leave that thing alone! It is the spirit of argument and disharmony. If you keep from touching it, it can do no harm. But, as you have seen, if you try to fight, it only grows greater.” – Fable of Aesop.

“Rabbi Akiva traveled with a donkey to lighten his load, a rooster to awaken him at dawn, and an oil lamp to study by at night. He trusted in God and believed that all God does is for the good. One day, God made it that Rabbi Akiva arrived at a town after the gates have been closed, so he had to sleep outside in the dangerous woods. When he, at last, sat down to study by the light of his lamp, a great wind arose and blew it out. So, saying to himself “All is for the good,” he lay down to sleep, confident that the rooster would wake him early the next morning.

But then a fox came and carried the rooster away. Rabbi Akiva said, “This too will be for the good,” and with that fell asleep. In the middle of the night, a lion pounced on the donkey and devoured the animal before it made a sound. Rabbi Akiva mourned over the life of his donkey, but saying “Everything is surely for the good,” he found joy and comfort and returned to a deep sleep.

When Rabbi Akiva awoke in the morning, he saw that the town had been attacked and burned to the ground. “See,” he said, “all is truly for the good. If I had gained entry into the town, or if my lamp had remained bright, or if my rooster had crowed, or my donkey had brayed, these attackers who destroyed the town would have certainly come after me, too!” – Traditional Jewish story.

“Ambrosia can be extracted even from poison;
elegant speech even from a child;
good conduct even from an enemy;
gold even from impurity.”
-from the Laws of Manu (sacred text of Hinduism)

“How far that little candle throws his beams.
So shines a good deed in a naughty world.”
– William Shakespeare

“You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I tell you, don’t resist an evildoer. On the contrary, if anyone slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. As for the one who wants to sue you and take away your shirt, let him have your coat as well. Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 5:38-40, HCSB translation)

“An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind”
– Gandhi biographer Louis Fischer, summing up Gandhi’s view on the Hindu concept of “ahimsa”

We have a choice now. We are at a crossroads. We can choose life or death. We can choose to be present and aware. We can choose to love our neighbors. We can choose to not be afraid. We can choose to rise above, rise together. We can choose. We are not powerless.

This isn’t about race or religion or creed, not anymore. This has happened too often, in too many different ways. There have been more mass killings in this world than we can easily count. It has become our normal, this terror, this fear. Some male takes a gun and kills many people, all strangers, in a moment.

In the same way that it has become our present normal, it can become our past. This does not have to continue. All things change.

In the meantime, we must remember that we have a choice to remain calm. To listen to the stranger. To be open and welcoming. To forgive. To show love and compassion. We must remember that there are far more kind, compassionate, and loving people than we realize. They don’t get the press attention so we don’t notice them. Start looking for the good, and you will find it all around you.

We must embrace the “other”, the different one, and include rather than exclude. This is a time to unite, not divide. I do not mean for “Us” to unite against “Them” – but to have a “We” instead.

We have a choice. It is time.