Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Don't take NO for an answer.

In his newest book, Malcolm Gladwell illustrates the point, that studies have shown, that there are only two different types of parenting styles. Parents who tell their kids what to do, what to think, what to say everything, and the parents who tell their kids how to do, how to think, and how to say everything. The kids whose parents teach them obedience are often the same ones who have a harder time in life because the system is pitted against them. The children of the parents who teach them self-reliance, on the other hand, are brought up being taught that there is more than one way to skin a cat. These kids are taught to speak their minds regardless of any social hierarchy. They are taught that they can always get what they want, if they just apply themselves to finding a way to get it. These are the kids who figure out to start a lemonade stand to get the bike they want because their parents told them that it cost too much money.

My parents happened to be of this latter sort and have taught me that regardless of my situation, I could always get out of it if I just applied myself hard enough, and If I failed to get what I desired, It was because I didn’t try hard enough, or smart enough. This mentality had been so ingrained into my thought process that when I took tests in School, If I had a debate between two answers that both seemed plausible, I would pick the one with which I could defend my answer after the test was graded. This mentality allowed me to take Math class at the local High School while still in Middle School, take AP classes in my freshmen year, graduate from high school 1 year early, and to end up graduating with a bachelors in Political Science by the age of 20. The best story I can think off that taught me this mentality growing up was when I was in fifth grade.

Now let me preface this with some history of me in the fifth grade. The Fifth Grade was when my life started to tear apart. My 1st Dog died, my parents were separated, I had a panic attack, I realized my parents weren’t the end of all information. My world as I knew it was coming to an end, and that was when my childhood started to end. I started acting out a little bit, but not outside of reason.

In my fifth grade bathroom there was this little panel that was padlocked. I was there when a group of fellow fifth grade boys decided to try to get past the padlock and into the area beyond because I mean face it, we were fifth graders and the world was ours to command. So 11 boys decided to try their luck, and I decided to join them because I desperately needed friends. I wasn’t completely addled and I knew to keep away from actually picking the lock, because in the unlikely chance that we got through I didn’t want my hands on the crime. After several recesses spent trying to break through, one kid decided to bring his pocket knife to school and try to pick the lock that way. As soon as I saw the knife, I got the heck out of dodge because I knew that knives were against school policy. After the knife failed, one of the other kids, Owen, (Names have been changed) asked me for a paper clip to try and pick the lock with. I decided to give him one knowing that a fellow fifth grader could not pick a Masterlock with a paper clip. Owen failed like I knew he would. All of our attempts failed to get into that panel. Then one morning after about two weeks of recess spent on that lock, we arrive at school early one morning to find the lock open. One of the kids took initial credit for it, but he didn’t kick open that master lock. In fact, I still don’t know how it opened unless someone unlocked it in order to snare us into a trap. That morning, using Owen’s flashlight I climbed up the vertical shaft to find the entrance way into the rafters above the auditorium. It wasn’t much, but to fifth grade boys it was fantastic. News quickly spread and within three days, every male member of the fifth grade, except for two, had been up into the rafters. On the morning of the fourth day, there was an announcement on the PA right before recess. Our principle, Mr. Herr (Name NOT changed) informed the entire school that the entire male fifth grade population was to report to a particular room for recess that day. So we all knew that the game was up when we walked into the room to be greeted by four policemen decked out in all their regalia, complete with nightsticks, handcuffs, and guns. This thoroughly freaked us out. Mr. Herr then told us that he knew about our escapades and that what we had done was called breaking and entering and would end us up in prison. He then decided to bestow mercy on us by letting us get out of it by putting our name on the list if we went up into the attic. We all started to sign and then he realized that it would take too long to accomplish and so he decided to switch it to have us all right down on a sheet of paper who had NOT gone up into the attic. We identified the two people and then he let us go while he decided our punishment. He realized he couldn’t logistically punish the entire fifth grade male populous and so he decided to go after the “ringleaders” which he defined as those who tried to pick the lock. When this news was broken I was relieved because I knew I hadn’t tried to pick the lock at all. Through his informants, he had obtained a list of those that he deemed “ringleaders,” and they were all supposed to meet in his office right away. I was shocked to find that my name was on that list. Me, a ringleader. I was the loner, the nerd, the kid who until recently was considered an angel, I hadn’t tried to pick the lock. Mr. Herr interviewed us each in turn to get the full story and when I got my chance to voice my concern, he had already decided my guilt in the matter and would not listen to reason. By this time our parents had been called and were championing our causes and were abhorred by his use of intimidation and sternness with their children. Mr. Herr decided to delay the sentencing of us until the next day. My parents, shaken at what I had done, still were on my side that he was out of line considering me as a ringleader. They then taught me that even when the authority is getting you down, you can beat them with the facts if you are true. We called up each of the other ringleaders and recorded their audio statements and asked them for written statements to the effect that I never tried to pick the lock, all I had done was watch and give Owen a paperclip. In one night we gathered all of these statements and my parents and I went into Mr. Herr’s office to plead my case that I know felt was airtight. We presented the evidence, citing examples of when I had left the bathroom when the kid with the knife (NOT one of the ringleaders) had pulled it out. We had some of the kids recalling the fact that I climbed over a wall to get out of the area of that knife. Mr. Herr however would not budge and he decided that because I gave Owen that paperclip, I was to be punished with the rest of them, because I knew that that paperclip would be used to pick the lock. Mr. Herr obviously lacked the logic skills necessary to see 1. Me giving a kid a paperclip was nothing compared to someone providing a knife, and 2. I was smart enough to realize that Owen could not pick a Masterlock with naught but a paperclip. Needless to say, my pleading failed. I was sentenced to in-school suspension (Thank you fellow parents for arguing the punishment down) and I had to write an essay about what I did.

While I believe that this taught me a valuable lesson, which was Mr. Herr’s intent no doubt, it was taught to me not by Mr. Herr, but by my parents. And they taught it so well, that I am just now fully recognizing it. They taught me how to stand up for myself, how to gather evidence to support me, how to not be afraid in the face of my enemies, how to use logic and reason to get me out of anything, and most importantly they taught me so subtly the lesson that has helped me the most through out my life. That lesson is best phrased by Archimedes and that has been re-taught to all of us through Disney’s Pirates: With enough leverage you can move the earth.
(But you can't move the Germans)

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