Saturday, June 25, 2011

Be your own person

Following the crowd
Growing up in my family, we were encouraged to exercise wise judgment. Whenever we were begging for permission to follow the crowd, instead of saying “No,” my mother would ask us, “If everyone jumped off the bridge, would you?” 

Trail BC bridge crossing the Columbia River
Since we lived near the fast flowing Columbia River with its dangerous undercurrents, jumping off the bridge was paramount to suicide.

My mother’s metaphor was clear. Sometimes bad things happen when you run with the pack. Be your own person.

My mother was very clever. Her question was annoying because our answer determined the outcome. Our impatient reply was always, “Of course not.” With that answer, we had sealed our fate; it meant that we did not have a good argument for our case. There was no need for Mom to say no. We had said no to ourselves. We had monitored our behavior before we had any opportunity to get into mischief.

Some of the young people involved in the recent Vancouver riot could have benefitted from repeated exposure to my mother’s question. If they had the self-control to monitor their behavior, they could have saved themselves and their families the heartache of their bad choices and the consequences of their criminal acts.

A scene from the Vancouver riot 2011

An unfortunate example
Take the unfortunate example of one rioter. A 17-year-old elite athlete, he was poised to attend university on a scholarship for water polo. He was captured on camera in what appears to be an attempt to ignite a police car on fire.

This young man turned himself into police, asked the court’s permission to waive his right as a minor to keep his identity anonymous, and made a remorseful public apology. He apologized first to his parents, saying that his actions do not reflect the lessons and values they have taught him. He accepts responsibility and is anxious to restore his reputation.

This rioter said that he was caught up in the moment. After having jumped off the bridge, he is trying to swim back to shore.

He is feeling some very unpleasant consequences because of his poor judgment. He has been publicly shamed and threatened on social media sites to such an extreme degree that his family had to leave their home. He has been provisionally suspended from the national water polo team. He missed his high school graduation.

Missing a high school graduation may not sound like much of a consequence, but high school graduation is a milestone in the lives of almost every young adult. It marks the passage from childhood to adulthood, and is a time of recognition and celebration.
The young rioter and his family had a lot to celebrate. He had a particular set of skills that had put him on a path towards the Olympics. Not many graduates can say that.

What's in the toolbox?
All graduates, though, have a set of skills that they have developed over the years. They leave high school with an impressive set of tools designed to help them achieve success in the world. All will have basic skills in literacy, numeracy, and technology. Some will have tailored their skills according to their interests and abilities. They may have specialized skills in athletics, the arts, and leadership. The toolbox of skills that the graduates have assembled will help them build the future of their imagination.

In today’s competitive environment, it is easy to become overly focused on the skill set because the quality of the skills in the toolbox has an influence on success. Parents are understandably anxious to provide opportunities for their children that might give them a bit of an edge in the world. Graduates are naturally focused on their future goals and strive hard to achieve them.

With society’s emphasis on fame and fortune, some may overlook the importance of a strong moral-ethical character, placing greater emphasis on a person’s marketable skills. But character matters in life. All the tools in the box need to be branded with personal integrity. An individual’s toolbox is incomplete if it lacks traits like self-control, honesty, faithfulness, respect, and good judgment.

The situation of the young rioter in the example above illustrates the point that my mother tried to impress on my sisters and me as teens. Choices have consequences. Let your choices reflect who you are, and not the character of the crowd. If you get caught up in the moment, you might regret jumping off the bridge. It’s a long fall, the water’s cold, and the swim back to shore, against the current of negative consequence, is exhausting.

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