A friend of mine was sharing a story about a time (some 20 years ago) when he was at Lake Hayward Beach area (in Hayward, WI) and a mother was asking her older daughter to get out of the lake because they were heading home. The daughter back-talked her mother (in public) and added a few choice words.
My friend shared how he spoke up and told the young girl that she was speaking inappropriately to her mother and that she should listen to her. He seemed to be speaking from one frazzled single-parent to another.
However, my friend realized that something had changed in the Hayward community (and in the larger culture) in the 20 years prior:
He experienced the look on everyone’s faces at the beach that what he had done was more shocking and inappropriate than the young girl in responding to her mother!
It seemed as though the community of adults were no longer permitted or welcomed to help shape the inner-workings of our community.
I experience this phenomenon every time (which I do rarely and carefully) I confront a particular behavior online. To use a common phrase, whenever I “call a student out,” they are more frustrated with my act of drawing attention to the behavior than the behavior itself. More and more students and parents do not want anyone correcting them. It’s almost as if our culture is okay with making mistakes and continuing to repeat them over and over again.
Now I work with young people. One of the benefits with working with this age group is that they are used to being corrected from time-to-time. Kids are used to adults helping them understand what is appropriate and how to respond. Something happens, though, on the way to teenage-hood…no one can tell you what to do anymore. Now this isn’t anything new. What is new, and becoming more and more accepted, is that no one (teacher, coach, pastor, etc) is allowed or permitted to “call a student or a parent” out on any negative or questionable behavior. It’s almost as if our cultural individualism has reached it’s logical conclusion: that no one has the right to speak into my life or “call me out” unless I want them to.
Last month, my family and I were at our local county fair. My two girls were playing in their favorite spot at the county fair: the corn box. The kids love playing in the corn box. There were some older girls (probably 4th graders) who were throwing corn and my wife asked them to stop. You should have seen the “go to hell” look these girls gave my wife! At that request the girls left, but not without one of the girls looking squarely at Amanda with an icy stare and saying: “You’re not my mom… you can’t tell me what to do.” Amanda and I chuckled because that is exactly what happened! They stopped!!
What does this mean for our culture moving forward? What does it mean to both personally and as a leader with a voice help shape our community? Would anyone care? Whether personally or corporately, how do we influence a community (with this particular cultural right) for the sake of the Gospel. Do we come underneath and encourage or do we come over-top and challenge? What is a language our culture understands? Truth statements? Absolutes? Right and wrong? Or perhaps stories? I wonder if the cultural witness for the Gospel looks like people both living out their lives and telling stories about their lives (perhaps through reflection?).
When I told Amanda about my friend’s story, she had a thought: Instead of chiding the young girl at the Hayward beach and thus telling the parent how to parent, that he could have said something like, “Young lady, those words are offensive to me and shouldn’t be uttered in public.” Amanda’s point had to do with making it personal (that was offensive to me) instead of calling the parent out on her ineffective parenting.
Whatever the case, if one is a Christian, we are called out to live the Gospel in our everyday lives. I wonder what that looks like in a culture that increasingly values individuality over a healthy community and decreasingly values help from other significant adults/elders in our community (even those who have great relationships with students).