Over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, a group of fourteen high school boys sat around our kitchen table. They were in town from their boarding school as part of an exploration into civil rights (and as a result, themselves). Facilitated by two faculty members over brunch, they had a conversation about race, friendship, and creating change in the world. While they were “boys being boys” relative to the amount of food consumed, jokes told, and general camaraderie, they were also torch bearers—nothing ordinary about them—through the darkness.
I witnessed a conversation ripe with self-reflection and honesty. They talked about the microaggressions they unknowingly direct towards themselves and others. (Microaggressions? Really? That word coming out of male high schoolers?) They spoke about the need to find practical ways to up their game relative to emotional and social intelligence. They shared experiences of racism and even more stories of grace, resilience, and love in the face of failures and rejection. They completely “got” who understood them and who humiliated them. They were wise, self-aware, and poetic: athletes, artists, and academics among them. Who were these creatures? Who were these evolving souls, minds, and hearts who—despite the fact that their frontal cortexes are still not connected—managed to connect consciously? Deeply. In such a heart-stopping, authentic way.
Despite this awe-inducing experience, I know parenting this group is not for the faint-hearted. As the mother of one of these seventeen-year-old boys, I am painfully aware of the stats and stories of addiction, depression, anxiety, and suicide in adolescents. And yet, I am biased toward these boys’ well-being. So often it feels there is a misguided “attack” on boys, on the beauty, power, and wisdom in their maleness. In an era of important causes like “Me Too,” it seems there has become a war on boys, and the mixed messages we send them are damaging. They need our support to connect consciously with themselves in healthy ways, leveraging their purpose, and being okay about being male, instead of being in a constant defensive state, feeling bad about their very essence.
If the boys in my kitchen are the boys-turning-into-men who will sit around boardroom tables, kitchen tables, and tables found in houses of worship, we are okay. In fact, if these are the boys who will help to guide the next generation of businesses, community services, spiritual questions, and children, we are more than okay. They are thoughtful. Reflective. Open. Empathetic. Courageous. Honest. As a result, we need to move in the direction of being hopeful and grateful, learning to celebrate that.
My experience tells me we all stumble, fall, and are broken open. We can all be less than who we are meant to be. And … we can also connect consciously and meaningfully so to transform ourselves, those around us, and our environments despite moments of struggle, the darkness of our ways, and the fear-based misunderstandings.
I see these characteristics and inspiration in my clients: captains of industry, leaders of many. I see this around my kitchen table: high school boys, intelligence and openness running deep.
We are okay. Everything will be okay.