In the 15 years that I spent counseling families as a youth pastor I ran into a lot of commonly repeated parental statements. By year three I could actually look at a parent and tell you what they were going to say to me before we sat down together. By year 5 I had compiled a list of sentences that I had heard so often that I never wanted to hear them again.
“Sure, he can build a house in Mexico but can he clean up his own room?”
“Isn’t there something that can be done about these cliques?”
“He’s got no idea when homework’s due, but he knows when Halo II comes out!”
“She’s dating a guy just like her father/my ex-husband!”
While those 15 years of parental frustration had a level of homogeny that would make Louis Pasteur rabid with envy, the most strikingly similar complaint came from mothers of middle school-aged boys. I heard it early and often, and it sounded something like:
“I swear he doesn’t think before he does anything… He just does things on impulse, and is shocked by the results.”
After a while I was stunned to realize that mothers of boys didn’t understand that human males are born with very little impulse control, not that the fact isn’t on display early in life:
Boys climb things that no one should climb.
They jump from things that no one should jump from,
and despite broken bones, they miraculously survive.
To try it again.
Whether by watchful eye, strict punishment, or excessive smothering, some mothers are able to suppress this childish behavior.
For a time.
As a youth pastor I watched families conquer the “terrible twos”, only to be caught unawares by what I call the “incompetent elevens” and the “surly seventeens.”
While we know that these are simply terms for the relative ages that children of both genders make attempts at individualization and independence, what many of us fail to grasp is that the attempts aren’t based out of reason or knowledge, they are based out of instinct and impulse.
Kids begin to feel that if they don’t act now, they won’t ever grow up and live their own lives. That’s the good news. The bad news, especially for males, looks like this equation:
Instinct/Desire – Knowledge + Minimal Experience= Unexpected Consequence
That Unexpected Consequence shocks parents, because they’ve spent years using this equation to minimize risk. It’s precisely an adult’s Knowledge and Experience that allows them to calculate Expected Consequences. Unexpected Consequence is then used to suppress instinctive desires.
Which brings me to Chardon, Ohio’s Frank Hall.
Frank Hall is a football coach at Chardon High School. Chardon High was the site of Monday’s tragic school shooting that left 3 teenagers dead and three others wounded.
The damage might have been significantly worse had the unarmed Coach not chased the still-armed shooter from the cafeteria. You read that last sentence correctly. He chased the still armed shooter from the cafeteria.
Somewhere his mother is wondering aloud, “I swear he doesn’t think before he does anything… “
Quite gratefully, we are all shocked by the results.
There are men and women who don’t hit the ground when shots are fired. While everyone else is thinking about the catastrophic end results that might happen to them if they do act, these people consider what might happen to everyone else if they don’t.
We spend a lot of time berating people for not taking responsibility for themselves, but Frank Hall acted, in a moment, on the impulse that he was responsible for the safety of people beyond himself.
His behavior in that cafeteria crucible might seem shocking to us, but his selfless character was on display long before he charged the gunman. As a coach, and the adoptive father of four children, he’s known for taking responsibility for kids in need.
Which brings me back to adolescent males.
The problem that those mothers were describing to me wasn’t one of impulse control. They were problems of selfishness, revealed by impulse control. Those parents who filed in and out of my office came hoping for techniques or medications to arrest the impulses of their kids.
More often than not they would come to understand that working on empathy and sympathy, taking responsibility for others, and learning to share, during the regular moments of everyday life, fostered impulsive moments of incredible generosity and courage when their children came under duress.
Heroism isn’t decided upon in a moment, it’s determined by how we live in the moments leading up to the impending tragedies that surely await every one of us. If we refuse to take responsibility in our daily lives, we won’t take responsibility in the extraordinary moments either.
In my adulthood I’ve lost friends and family members who were firefighters, police officers, and soldiers.
They ran into situations that other people didn’t.
They didn’t think twice.
They didn’t do the math.
They didn’t expect to die.
They had a different definition of what it means to live.
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” -John 15:13