The teenage boys from Covington Catholic High School did not set out to become famous. Sometimes history forces us into positions we did not seek. We have no way of knowing if in time they will fade into oblivion or become leaders. Will they emerge from this experience with new strength of character or will they wilt from this trial? Will they continue to uphold the morals and values of their families or will they succumb to the lure of easy acceptance for those who kowtow to popular culture’s sacred icons? We cannot predict their futures any more than we can predict our own children’s or even our own.
What we can know is that they are growing up in a world that no longer values the idea of maturity. The word itself has become a buzzword for old age with all its negative connotations rather than a desired step of growth. For younger people, it has been replaced by ‘adulting,’ a word that implies tentative, halting steps to being responsible for oneself rather than a solidifying of one’s character and moral backbone.
Maturity, in its positive sense, comes slowly. Starting at birth we take teensy steps on that path. One of the first signs is when a baby begins to anticipate what is coming. From their first moments out of the womb infants cry when they wake up hungry, oblivious to the mothers rushing into their room and rearranging their clothing in preparation for nursing. At some easy to miss point, not that far down the road, those same babies are soothed just by seeing and hearing their mothers.
We carry on from there, learning to anticipate what will come and, ever so slowly, we strengthen the muscles that allow us to work towards a goal, to value future success over present satisfaction, and to react with wisdom rather than reflex. We learn to consider others rather than focus only on ourselves, to weigh new ideas and to go beyond visceral responses. We mature. As we do so, we become assets to our families, communities and nations.
Occasionally in sad cases, old age can mean a return to a childhood lack of control. It can be shattering to see the parent who represented security and protection become a querulous and demanding individual as illness ravages his body and mind. While the parent is still alive, mourning for that parent already begins.
Looking at this week’s news made me realize that much of our society is trying to do away with those productive years between infancy and the most negative stereotypes of old age. We have already accepted that many of the years that used to be spent in working hard and establishing marriages and families are now often an extension of adolescence. As the news cycle shows, people in positions who used to be respected such as journalists and politicians, increasingly see their roles as shouting out whatever comes into their prejudiced minds rather than researching, analyzing and gathering information.
Instead of caring for others, we act as if we are the only important ones. If something —or someone (even a defenseless baby)—makes us uncomfortable, we lash out at them, verbally or physically. When an idea contradicts our preconceived notions, we shut it down. We demand the power of government to support our parochialism and express our hatred. We pontificate simplistic and foolish answers, ignorant of history’s lessons. Our own comfort is all that matters and too many elevated to leadership are dazed at their own (non-existent) brilliance.
Watching so many politicians, lawmakers, teachers, journalists and others in positions of power behave like infants and toddlers is disturbing. When a two-year-old thrashes about in a temper tantrum, she can be protected from harming himself and others. When a twenty-five or forty-year-old thrashes about in a tantrum, she can incite a mob. Social media exponentially expands the power of destruction.
The boys from Covington Catholic High School were the victims of one of society’s increasingly common temper tantrums. My prayer is that the experience add to their maturity and development as men who, in the words of Rudyard Kipling “…being lied about, don’t deal in lies, Or being hated, don’t give way to hating…” I hope it coats them with protective armor that leads them to reject the temptations of superficiality, fake virtue and arrogance that, sadly, are the examples being set for them by those who should have been their role models.