“Boys will be boys”
I heard that comment above quite a bit in the last two weeks and especially after the Senate hearing last week with Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh. I also remember hearing those words when I was growing up. Sometimes it was directed at me. My room would be a mess, or I’d talk back to the people who brought me up. There’d usually be a sigh from the adults, and some variation of ‘boys will be boys.’
It didn’t stop there. There would be a lesson given to me that while indeed ‘boys will be boys’ there would be a time when I’d grow up into an adult. I would be expected to change my ways that were impulsive, reactive and hormonally driven into a more calm, reasoning and respectful adult.
Recently, I attended my 50th high school class reunion in Maine. It’s remarkable how we carry the dark memories of high school for so many years afterward. High school was terrible for me: teasing, bullying, being shoved and sometimes beaten because I was fearful of sticking up for myself. The benign and careless cruelties of classmates in high school become hardwired memories. I had an underlying anxiety that the meanspirited laughter about my awkwardness and appearance during high school would still be present 50 years later.
I’d seen some of my classmates from high school over the years. Facebook was a blessing because then we could connect on social media. Others, however, had disappeared and I had no idea what had become of them. They included people who had hurt me (and in fairness, I had probably hurt them as well).
The reality of meeting many of those classmates for the first time in 50 years was incredible. We laughed at some of the silliness of those years. Two people who had been constant adversaries in high school came up to apologize for being so angry and bullying. Some others shared their life stories while we enjoyed a meal together. I was astonished at how much pain people had had in their lives that seemed so normal from afar.
I realized later on my way back to Seattle that almost everyone there at the reunion had similar anxieties when they arrived. What I heard from many there were stories of regret for hurts and cruel words and deeds. We spoke honestly about our fears in high school. Some of the most popular kids were the most anxious. Who would have known?
What does this mean for the current anger in America about #MeToo and other conversations? How do we speak truth to others who have hurt us? How do we hear truth and not turn away?
None of us are perfect. We do, however, have the option of becoming wiser and more compassionate people. Yes, boys will be boys and we can put all kinds of variations on that gender identity.
Some of us at the reunion talked quietly about being in recovery. We were a small group and mostly went to AA. We agreed that the religious flavor of the 12-step programs was a bit much. However, we put that aside for some ironclad rules. When we hurt someone, we own up to it whether it was 50 years earlier or yesterday. We make amends as best we can. We try our best to not repeat actions or words that hurt others.
It all starts there, I think. 50 years to apologize can be a long time. However, I cannot say how much I appreciated words of apology. I was able to say ‘thank you’ in return. What I have learned in recovery is that apologizing and owning our mistakes is strength, not weakness. Owning our own bullying or meanness is a step toward right relationship in community.
It doesn’t need to take 50 years. It can start today if adults will be adults.