When we think of bravery, we key on firefighters streaming water onto the Waldo Canyon fire, or activists facing down troops in Syria, or reporters risking death in Egypt by reporting on elections. We cite acts by people we don’t know, people who have done something “big” enough to make national news. And, yet, every day people much nearer are acting on their convictions, risking a friendship by telling a hard truth, or saying something unpopular to stop racist or sexist comments. For an example of emotional/moral courage, I have to look no further than the bedroom down the hall where my 14-year-old daughter hangs out in a clutter of horse posters, stuffed animals, unmade beds and drawing supplies.
As a high school freshman this year, she attracted the attention of a young man in her class. A nice young man, a smart young man, even a cute young man. But–You knew there was going to be a “but,” didn’t you?–she wasn’t interested in this boy (let’s call him Mike). He was very interested in her, however, and asked for her phone number, told one of her friends he liked her, and cornered her after classes and at lunch. When it got to the point that Mike presented her with a gift after class one day, she asked me what she should do.
I told her she had at least three options. 1. Ignore him and hope he gets the message eventually and leaves her alone. 2. Tell the friend who acted as his go-between that she doesn’t feel romantically inclined toward him and let the friend relay the message. 3. Take Mike aside, return the gift, tell him she’s flattered but uninterested, and request that he leave her alone. Personally, I’d always been fond of the cowardly Option 1, and had spent many a miserable week in my twenties not answering the phone (in the days before caller ID) so I wouldn’t have to talk with some guy I was avoiding. I actually missed out on a job offer doing that once. I pointed out to my daughter that Option 3 was definitely the best and the most honest; it was also the hardest.
Well, a few days later I asked her how it was going with Mike. She told me she’d found a way to be private with him, and had returned the gift and told him she didn’t want a relationship with him. Being a kind person, she agonized over hurting his feelings, but I assured her that what she’d done was kinder in the long run than letting him hope that her feelings would change. I also told her I was immeasurably proud of her for being brave enough to be proactive and forthright and confront an awkward interpersonal relationship issue with honesty and grace. Many, many adults (I’m raising my hand, here) fail at this repeatedly.
In an ironic twist, the very next week a teacher paired my daughter and Mike together to work on an assignment. Gaah! My daughter railed about the unfairness and awkwardness of it, but had to admit she was relieved she’d already told Mike she wasn’t interested in him.
How about you, readers? Any examples of courage on the part of your kids that have surprised and/or impressed you?