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Part 4- What Do You Do With BOYS?

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The Boyer Blog: Part 4- What Do You Do With BOYS?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Part 4- What Do You Do With BOYS?

Boys and Heroes

It’s trendy today to refer to “role models” for boys. Why might that be? Why doesn’t anybody suggest that boys should have “heroes” any more?

One of the casualties of political correctness is the concept of moral excellence. That is, that there are absolute and definable values of good and evil and that some actions and attitudes are better than others. There used to be such things as good people and bad people who did good or bad things. Now, we’re not taught as youngsters to think in terms of right and wrong, but in terms of our own “values.” Hence we don’t learn ethics but values clarification in school. Heaven forbid (if you still believe in heaven) that we should endorse one person’s values over another's, let alone assert that there are absolutes of good and evil.

This is a far cry from earlier days when it was generally recognized that God was the judge of good and evil and that His opinions were immutable. I’m old enough to remember a time when everybody recognized that there exist absolutes of right and wrong, good and bad, normal and perverted. That the only values that matter are the values that God places on things. It was understood that no man had the right to determine morality for himself but must bow to the Creator of all things and His valuation.

Today, moral judgments are considered out of bounds. Hence, we don’t use the term “hero,” which denotes virtue of character. Mustn’t pass judgment on anybody’s character by suggesting that someone else’s is superior. Rather, we talk about “role models,” which seems to simply mean somebody who is good at something he does. He may or may not give a rip about what’s right and wrong; in fact he may be selfish, rude, promiscuous, boorish and abusive—but he sure can throw a ball through a hoop. He is a good model for the role because he’s good in that role himself.

It’s symptomatic of our times that we have not only devalued the idea of heroism to the level of role models, but we have even attached inflated value to the roles themselves. We worship people who pretend to be other people in movies, though their personal lives are moral cesspools. We admire people who invest years of discipline into playing games that only entertain, yet scarcely recognize others who have made the world better for the entire human race. Everybody knows who Tiger Woods is. He bumps little balls into holes in the ground. How many people know who Jonas Salk was? He developed the vaccine that eliminated polio. Think about it.

Another way we devalue heroism is to apply the term too loosely. One of the good things that came out of the tragedy of the terrorist attacks of 911 was a renewed appreciation of military personnel and emergency service providers—policemen, firemen and medical first responders. Even still, police officers are less often portrayed as heroes than people in the other categories. Could it be because their very existence implies the punishment, and therefore the presumed presence, of evil in the world—in other words, that moral judgments can and must be made? But I digress.

I was going to point out that since 911, every firefighter, every EMT, every member of the military is referred to as a hero. Now, let’s be careful to give credit where credit is due. It’s true that any member of the military or emergency services runs the risk of having to place his life on the line for the sake of others. They should all be applauded for that. But let us not lose the distinction between the usual and the exceptional. There are some emergency personnel who have reason to expect that their service will normally be comparatively free of risk to their own safety. There are others who know perfectly well that they are taking their lives in their hands every time they go to work. Compare the life of a police dispatcher to that of the street cop for example. They both wear the same uniform, but dispatchers rarely get shot at. Every now and then one of those street cops chokes back his fears and does what must be done, knowing that there is every possibility that he’s about to end up with his portrait on the station wall. That is a hero. And it cheapens the term to imply that everybody in the uniform is just as much a hero as that guy.

Today, more than ever, a boy needs heroes to look up to. Of course his first hero normally is, and should be, his father. But ever more boys are growing up in fatherless homes without even a male “role model.” Even more common is the home that exemplifies our society’s addiction to shallow entertainments, mostly of the electronic variety, meaning sitcoms in which Dad, if he’s there, is an imbecile and movies in which even the good guy isn’t good. Movies don’t have heroes any more.

I’ve been a boy and I remember it. I had heroes.

I was never much turned on by the “superheroes,” though we had them even then. There was Superman, Batman, wise-cracking Spiderman—although he was only in the twelve-cent comic books, not yet a movie star. But even as a kid I could discern between the real and the contrived. I gravitated to books about George Washington, Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone, Francis Marion, John Paul Jones, Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson. If my family had been Christian then, I hope I would have grown up reading about John Wesley, George Whitefield, William Booth, Hudson Taylor, David Brainerd, George Mueller and Jonathan Edwards, too. These were men worthy of a young boy’s emulation. They were generals, presidents, preachers and explorers. They took great risks and made great sacrifices. They did things worth doing. Yet they were humble as they were brave.

Those men made me want to be a MAN. I wanted to grow up to be good and strong and wise and brave. I was, like most of my friends, waylaid by the cheap values of the world as a teenager, but my most formative years left me indelibly imprinted with the knowledge that there was something more and something better. There were achievements worth striving for. There was a purity of character that was a reward in itself. I sold a lot of potential for a mess of pottage when I was a teenager, but the heroes of my childhood had a grip on me still, and though I compromised a lot I never escaped the shadow of Washington and Lee. I hope my sons never do, either.

What is the value of heroes in our lives? Why does the Bible say so much about people who stood out? “Honorable” people? Why is there a whole chapter—Hebrews 11—devoted to chronicling the lives of people who did great things—not just remarkable, but admirable things? And they’re referred to as “men of whom the world was not worthy.”

I think it’s because heroes remind us that there really is such a thing as greatness. While the rest of the world chases its tail looking for satisfaction at discount store prices, kids who want their lives to amount to something have people, living and long gone, to look to for examples. Their heroes both raise the bar and at the same time show the way to get over it. To have a hero—not just a role model—is to be inspired to rise above the ordinary. It is a constant reproof to laziness, low standards and unworthy attitudes. Truly great people make us dissatisfied with ourselves, impatient rather than comfortable with our faults, and ashamed of complaining about our difficulties, most of which pale in comparison to those once shrugged off by our heroes. Many of our heroes—the real ones, I mean—came from humble circumstances but were raised by virtue to dizzying heights of honor and achievement. Boys who get to know them, aspire to rise above their circumstances too. To dream of being worthy of honor is an honorable thing in itself. It is surely the most direct path to becoming a hero to some kid who will come along in a future day.

One of the most rewarding projects I’ve done is the resurrection of great old books for kids in audio form. We’ve been thrilled to find biographies of great Americans written for young folks and before political correctness robbed kids’ literature of real heroes. So far I’ve recorded an excellent biography of Washington and another one of Franklin, both important founders. The author emphasizes character and quotes Scripture repeatedly. I also have some collections of stories about other American heroes. It’s exciting to know that in the years to come, thousands of kids around the country will hear old Uncle Rick read to them on CD about people worthy to be their heroes. They’ll learn an awful lot of our nation’s history at the same time. By the same token, you’ll find that our extensive ebook library contains a lot of biographies of honorable people along with other subjects.

I’ll admit that I was a little jealous when my wife wrote her popular book, For You They Signed. I’ve been heard to say that for a year and a half, I saw little of her but the top of her head. But her excitement over discovering the greatness of the men who gave us the Declaration of Independence drove her on and the result was remarkable. We’ve all seen Trumbull’s painting of the signing of the Declaration, but how many of the 56 men depicted can any of us name? And what do we know of their character and accomplishments?

Nobody seems to know of Caesar Rodney, the delegate from Delaware, who gave up treatment for his skin cancer—available only in England—when he signed the Declaration. Or that he rode eighty miles on horseback, mostly at night through a driving rain to cast his vote for independence.

Signer Robert Morris watched the bombardment of the British forces in Yorktown when the Americans had Cornwallis bottled up in his last fight. Morris was a man of means, and had a mansion in the city which was being used as a headquarters by British officers. When he asked why his mansion was thus far unscathed in the shelling, soldiers informed him that they were trying to avoid damaging his property. He told them to train their cannon directly on his home and blow the British out of it. They did so, and he lost his house.

That’s the caliber of the men my wife was writing about! Real Heroes!

My experience with audio recording biographies of great Americans has become something of a fetish, too. Biographies written a hundred or more years ago reflect the values that used to be standard in America. And they made no bones of teaching character lessons to the young people they were written for. In the biography of Franklin, the author, Elbridge Brooks clearly reveals young Ben’s diligence, honesty, civic spirit and eagerness to learn. While modern biographies portray Franklin as a deist, Brooks’ version makes plain the God-fearing philosophy that impelled Franklin to contribute his own funds to many various Christian ministries, including the famous evangelist George Whitefield. He relates the fact that Franklin, after a “long and useful life” (as described in a letter he received from George Washington) died with his eyes on a painting of Jesus that hung on his bedroom wall.

The same author wrote the biography of Washington that Uncle Rick recorded. Throughout the book, he quotes Scripture (yes, children’s authors used to do that) and emphasizes George’s exceptional and carefully developed character qualities. He closes the book with an exhortation to his young readers to emulate the character of Washington throughout their lives. Don’t waste too much admiration, he says, on Napoleon who was also a great military leader of the time. Napoleon went to war for his own glory. Washington would rather have stayed home and been a farmer at Mt. Vernon, but was called upon four times by his country and always answered the call.

Boys will be men. They need men worthy of the name, and women too, to whom to look for a picture of greatness. In our day of small men casting long shadows, it’s worth the trouble for parents to find heroes, past and present who will challenge their sons to become the men our society needs to lead us back to the way of our fathers.

~Rick Boyer

More Resources:
Heroes- Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Character for Life



Anonymous Anonymous said...

You blog on boys has been good. It gives me somethings to think about as I raise my 2 year old boy.

I was wondering if you had thought about doing a blog on girls. I have two girls 4 and 6 and would love you insights on raising girls. Like what to with all the drama that little girls can have and how to help them deal with things without so much drama. Anyway just an idea. Thanks for you blog....I enjoy reading it.

March 29, 2010 at 10:49 AM  

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