7.22.2009

Code of the Street


I distinctly remember a discussion I had with my four staffers in the youth entrepreneurship program I used to run. It was about whether kids should fight back when physically provoked. Two of my staffers, from the suburbs, said absolutely not: fighting is wrong and shouldn't be encouraged. Two of my staffers, from the city, said absolutely yes: it's just what you do, or else you get walked over.

I tried to strike a conciliatory stance - there is a "code of the street," to borrow a concept from Penn professor Elijah Anderson, so you are compelled to fight to prove yourself, but you can help bend the terms of engagement in ways that ensure that no one really gets hurt. But I recall back then filing this debate in the back of my head and realizing that someday I would have my own kids and have to really decide which side I was on.

Flash forward to the earlier this week, when I was greeted in my day care one evening with Aaron's teacher informing me that Aaron had been fighting. Apparently, Aaron was tired of getting picked on and swung at and decided to finally do some retaliating. You could tell his heart wasn't into it, though, because when I gave him a stern look and asked him if he had been hitting others, he crumpled into my arms in sadness over doing something bad and over being bullied around, rather than responding in defiance and anger.

And so, many years after that philosophical debate, I have a very real one in my hands. I am neither the type to think, "Attaboy, son; and I hope you got some good licks in," nor one who is appalled by all fighting and thinks one should just get beat on every day without recourse. I understand that there is a "code" that governs our human interactions, and, whether in the city or the suburbs, you have to stand up for yourself or else get walked over. But I also believe in an even higher governing "code" called the Bible, in which Jesus says we are to "turn the other cheek."

Fighting or no fighting, we love our son and want to teach him what's right. I'm just struggling to figure out what that is.
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