Almost always, what I see of society leaves me with more questions than answers. Not unlike most other experiences, I was left with questions after observing an exchange between parents and a son whilst doing some shopping. It was a simple conversation between the three that made me think about why our society might be so violent. It went something like this:
Son: I can’t believe that boy thought he could hit me like that.
Father: You hit him back, right?
Mother: I hope you don’t get in trouble at school because…..
Father: That damn school better not say a word to him for hitting that kid. He had it coming when he acted like he was going to hit my son. It’s not like I raised some pussy. My boy defends himself.
Son: Yeah. I’m tougher than that kid.
Mother: Did he actually hit you?
Son: Nope. I never gave him the chance.
Father: That’s my boy.
I’m not sure I can unpack everything about this conversation that bothers me—there’s just so much wrong. The most disturbing to me was that even though the child had not been assaulted, he found it necessary to strike with violence anyway. According to the words of his father, he’d apparently been taught that the only way to be a man is to be the toughest, the most willing to raise your hands to another, the first to strike, and the one who will use violence in all circumstances.
Neither parent asked him why the other child was upset, or about their own child’s role in the altercation. The mother does begin to question, but the father is too busy applauding his son to really get to the root of the issue. Dad doesn’t care about conflict resolution. He only cares that his son wasn’t a “pussy” (another bothersome thing for another article).
This is how we teach boys to behave, and if they don’t we call them names and make fun of them. Then, we expect them to be nonviolent in school? It’s counterintuitive to tell our sons to raise their fists whilst expecting them to know how to peacefully resolve conflict. We tell them to never lose, to never let someone have the upper hand, yet we expect them to respect other humans. We teach our sons to be supreme narcissists who only care that they are the top dog, yet expect them to treat others with respect. It’s the real paradox of raising sons in American culture. Be strong. Be a winner. Fight. Don’t be a “girl”. But don’t hit women, don’t fight in school, and respect other people. It’s no wonder our sons are so torn and confused.
I think the one thing we need to tell our sons is that more often than not, the true measure of a man is not who is quick to raise his fists for fear of being made fun of, but he who knows it is most often best to walk away no matter who might laugh. If we keep teaching our sons to be violent, folks, we can expect to continue living in a violent society.