The Danger of Certainty

For those who are reading my blog for the first time…thanks for your interest in this vitally important topic. Each message is intended to help you raise your kids (primarily boys) to be Tender Lions…to be tough, decisive, brave, discerning …and to be tender, sensitive, empathetic, and vulnerable.

In the last few years (if you’re paying attention at all you already know this) our society is increasingly more chaotic, divided, racist, polarized and examples of hate are plentiful. So how does one, or more specifically, how do I raise my son, in a time like this, to be a tender lion?

First, full disclosure. I’m an imperfect dad, who’s made many mistakes in raising my son and daughter. But I care deeply about this issue, and so should you. Ineffective parenting is one of the core issues as to why and how our society is so messed up today! What follows illustrates just one topic, race.

In the early 1960s my family was headed to St. Louis to visit relatives. I was 6 or 7 seven years old. As we drove across the Mississippi River into the downtown area, my dad said, “Kids, roll up the windows and lock the doors.” It was a hot summer day (pre air-conditioning) so all three of us kids asked, “Why?” What my dad said next is not something I care to repeat related to the character and conduct of Blacks.

Periodically as a kid I heard both my parents make statements that led me to believe that immigrants (primarily Mexicans) and Blacks (almost all brought here against their will due to slavery) were lazy, dishonest, stupid and could be dangerous. Those early messages “seeped in” and had a negative effect on my belief system.

I’ve lived in Maywood, Illinois for 40+ years. Maywood’s racial makeup of about 60% Black, 20% Brown and 15% White, and 5% Other. Once I was beaten up to the point that I had to be hospitalized for four days. I had my car’s back window smashed in. On another occasion my car was stolen out of my garage. My bike was stolen. I was once cheated out of more than $1,000. All by white people. I have no, zero, personal experiences that would support the beliefs I “absorbed” from my childhood about Blacks.

And I have plenty of first-hand experiences (see above) that should warn me about the dangers of white people. Yet, when I walk down the street and see a group of white teenagers, my first thoughts are not, “I should be afraid, they intend to do me harm or that they’re up to no good.” But as recently as last week, I saw a small group of black teenagers on my block wearing hoodies, and my first reaction was, “I wonder what they’re up to?” I had to consciously reframe my thoughts to, “Brian, they’re just teenage boys goofing around and enjoying each other’s company.” I’m realizing more and more that unconscious bias in alive and at work in me. How did I become like this?

Back to the 1960s in St. Louis. My parents had an air of certainty and conviction to their tone, not only about race. My parents believed what they were saying. My parents loved me and wanted the best for me. I trusted them, for God’s sake. And I believed them.

And they were wrong about race!

My great-grandparents were immigrants…as were yours, I suspect. And they certainly were not lazy, dishonest, stupid or dangerous. To the contrary, they were brave, maybe even heoric for what they endured and sacrificed to start a new life in America. And yet, I know that there was intense prejudice against Germans in the past, as well as Native Americans, Italians, Irish and Asians (obviously still in full bloom in 2021). The significant difference is at the end of the day, my ancestors were white.

Of the many neighbors of color I’ve met in the last 40 years, the better I get to know them, the more I realize they’re just like me…except their skin tone is darker than mine. Somehow, we (White people) made the arbitrary decision that white skin is somehow a better thing than dark skin. And it’s been going on for 400 years. In India, the caste system (based not on color, but again arbitrary) is just as alive and well as it was hundreds of years ago. A century ago in Germany, the Nazis arbitrarily decided that the Jews would become the lowest caste, and the results were shameful and horrific.

My point is this. Never in my life was I more wrong than when I was certain that I had things all figured out. Not that many years ago I was certain about politics, race, religion, sexuality, the economy, healthcare and parenting. I think (Well, I used to know, but now I’m not so sure.)…that the most important thing for me now is to realize that my assumptions may be wrong.

My certainty was actually based in fear, not facts. It’s much safer (not wiser however) to not question my beliefs, and to only consume the social media, news outlets, and hang out with people who agree with me on everything. That’s easy.

And I think, actually I’m certain about this, that beliefs based on a false premise are just as powerful as those based in fact. Except those based on lies, denial or ridiculous conspiracy theories can lead to poor, maybe even dangerous and deadly decisions. I mean just sayin’, there are people who actually believe that throwing a fire extinguisher and spraying bear spray in the face of a DC police officer is justifiable.

Certainty led me to narrow-mindedness. Certainty supported my unhealthy ego. Certainty caused me to avoid dealing with my own dark side that eventually caused me and my family great pain. Certainty caused me to live much of my life with prejudices, some blind to me, that have caused me to not “love my neighbor as myself.” Certainty inhibited my ability to be a better parent.

What are you certain about that, just perhaps, you need to reconsider?


#Tenderlions #tenderlionsbook #faith #family #fathers #fatherandson #certaintyisstupid #loveyourneighbor #loveistheanswer

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Many of these blog entries are edited excerpts from Tender Lions: Building the Vital Relationship Between Father and Son

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