PARENTS who have a boy always disclose the fact with a smile, or in a tone of gratification. Then usually there follows the assurance that he is a ‘real boy, too.’ Though you might think him noisy and untidy, bent upon his own concerns, and a great tease, rather rough and inconsiderate, yet, for themselves, they do not mind: they like boys. Boys will be boys, and a real boy is the real thing.
You meet this ‘real boy,’ too, in all books about boys. You even seem to see him constantly on the street and in your neighbor’s yard, or trespassing on your own land. You unquestioningly believe schools to be full of him, and your office-boy perhaps appears to be a sample of him. But among boys whom you really know, which one is really such a boy? Is your well-beloved nephew that kind of a real boy, or the boys you know well among your pupils? Were your brothers like that, or your own son, or you yourself? Scarcely. Yet, if this is not the real boy, what is a boy, really? What are boys like? Here are hundreds of them passing before us, swiftly, vigorously moving from babyhood to manhood. What definite things do we really know about them? and if they are not like what we think they are like, why do we think they are like that, and not like what they really are like?
Our habitual assumptions about boys are pretty definite. They have a positive reputation. During the past ten years, I have been collecting what is currently said and constantly written about boys, noting and jotting down each familiar phrase as I happened across it. Putting them all together, I get a popular characterization which runs thus (everyone will recognize how common the ideas are): —
Boys are noisy and decidedly in need of physical activity, for they possess an inexhaustible supply of surplus energy. Boys are dreadfully untidy, very inconsiderate, bent upon their own concerns and inobservant of all else. Boys are pugnacious and athletic, yet they are lazy. To lessons they are indifferent, laughing and rebelling at them and at all poetry, sentiment, and religion. Scornful of mothers, girls, and babies, boys are, nevertheless, generous, brave protectors of the weak; are good-hearted and loyal, and hate meanness, lies, and cowardice. On the other hand, they are impatient of reproof and insensitive to it, as well as to disgust and fear; they spend much of their time dodging their duties, deceiving those in authority, and teasing those beneath them. Boys love so to rule that they are superlatively resistive and rebellious. They are full of creativity, because of which they devote themselves to keen interests, one at a time, with the passion of collector and specialist. At the same time, they are very emulative, and so responsive to competition, that two young boys together are scarcely safe in a dangerous place where either one alone would be perfectly trustworthy, and three together are sure to get into trouble. Indeed, they have such an inclination to show off, that they thus speedily take leave of their common sense when they gather in groups; but they hate to be shown off by others. In truth, boys have so great a desire to excel, that it is said that every boy at some time wants and expects to become president; this gives them a high standard in whatever they undertake; so, if they think they cannot reach that standard, they refuse to try at all. Indeed, when you come to know them, you find boys supersensitive and very dependent on sympathy and comprehension, highly objective and very dramatic, and not at all self-cognizant. They are built in compartments, and a real boy cannot see one part of himself when another is engaging his attention.
Everyone must recognize that this concatenation of contradictory claims and charges, heterogeneous as it is, includes after all only what is currently said and constantly written about boys. Yet, collected and bound together, it reads like an ill-sorted bundle of unrelated impressions made regarding separate boys of various temperaments and tastes at sundry times — it appears to be, not a characterization, but a scrap-heap. The lads whom we know do not categorically answer to this description, though we recognize that each is like some part of it. Our own lads are sons and brothers and human souls; each is a person, different from all others that ever were. The characteristics which all boys have in common seem to us so few as to be almost negligible, and even these few appear in separate boys in very varying degrees. Besides, there is almost nothing which boys have in common that men do not also have; and most of what makes boy and man is common in girls and women, too.
‘Boy’ probably pointed out originally nothing but the mere fact that a man is young before he is old. There is, we all know, very little which distinguishes a boy from a man, except his youth — that is, his obviousness in interests, his inexperience, and his inexpertness. In thinking of boys, we are thinking of men, minus responsibilities and skill.
Your own boy at twelve or fourteen is as much a full-grown man as Richard the Lion-Hearted ever was (though not as great). He is able, or should be able, to maintain himself in the inanimate world and to handle simple personal relations with some good sense. The only difference between the boy and the man that he is to become is in self-use and in use of the world about him. Nevertheless, in the long ages since there was not even that difference between boy and man, certain salient characteristics may have accumulated in the mere boy, — in boys as boys, — somewhat separate from men. The word ‘boy’ has a strong collective flavor of its own, and before we discard it as a mere label, I want to consider it in a different way.
Instead of collecting what people say about boys, suppose we patiently watch many actual boys, regarding each as if he were our own son or brother, and moving our thoughts about so as to see the boy’s acts as he sees them himself, and so as to guess how he explains himself to himself; and, in addition, to guess how much of invisible motive and impulse there is which he never explains or thinks of at all: thus we may win at last to understand how the whole conflicting conception of boy came about, and how popular assertions which seem most contradictory are really descriptions of the same traits from divers standpoints of comprehension and incomprehension. The heterogeneous scrap-heap of current notions can, in fact, be arranged like the bits of a picture puzzle into a comprehensible, continuous, and satisfactory whole.
Pursuing the idea ‘ boy ’ in this way is trying to detach a group from the great flood of life and to define it. This is almost a scientific pursuit. And so, as we set forth to capture that elusive quarry, a definition, let us be sure we know what sort of creature we expect to find in the end. ‘In the sciences of Life, a group must be defined, not by its exclusive possession of certain characters but by its tendency to emphasize them ’ — this is sound doctrine and simplifies our search. We do not expect to discover what boys are that no one else is, but only what they emphasize as no one else emphasizes it.
Thinking thus, about real boys, my mind runs back, perforce, to the imagined beginning that we all know so much about. Back there in the Tree and Cave, physical circumstances made the Boy-Man of earliest times inevitably the protector of wife and child, hearth and home, tribe and land, king and country. So, from very long ago, his muscles and his temper have bred themselves to strength and pugnacity, activity and self-protection, through the dangers and difficulties of pursuit, struggle, and capture.
Consequently, he has to-day, if he is healthy, and usually even if he is not, a natural love of physical activity; and he possesses the abundant persistent energy made necessary to him by his position as progenitor and protector of the race. This is not to say that he has special toughness against disease, for he has not; nor has he freedom from fatigue.
Likewise, we know that his office as father put upon him the duty of dominance, self-confidence, and ingenuity after its importunate presence made vivid its demands. All this has no direct causal connection with the reproductive impulse. His character is simply the practical elaborate outcome of a responsible position which he took early in history, consequent, of course, upon his possessing the reproductive impulse, but not caused by it. That impulse simply gave the type, as it were, to his activity — a type marked by vigor and immediacy. It established a precedent for the sort of way in which his desire should work, through whichever part of his nature that spiritual force might ever and anon be active.
So, through whatever channel a boy is working off his spirits, whether it be muscular, creative, or cogitative, he tends always to move with a sort of generative definiteness. He is subject to sudden overmastering impulses to action. Now it is hunger: hence raids on the pantry. Now it is muscular motion: hence trials of strength and the twisting of other boys’ arms. Always ‘something doing.’ Always generative definiteness, even in doing nothing.
This generative definiteness then is his characteristic emphasis: concentration, vividness, intensity, immediacy, exclusion, and selection are apt to control the manner of his activity, whether emotion and passion, steady practical occupation, or mere attention and mental process, be the matter of it.
His historic business in life, the sum of his duty to the race, has been to be bent upon his own purposes, and to strive to rule and to excel to the very utmost of his native capacity, so that he may preserve life and gain advantage, for himself and for those dependent upon him. Hence it is natural that he should often seem inconsiderate, unobservant, and insensitive, to bystanders who have not his attention and wish they had it; who are not interested in his purpose and wish him to be interested in theirs.
Such was the Boy-Man, by force of his personal circumstances; but the primitive tribe wanted him to fit also the communal circumstances. It needed good fighters and loyal clansmen. So, side by side with the real boy, produced because his nature sought to answer its own immediate demands, there grew up an accepted type called a boy, which embodied the community-ideal of what a satisfactory boy must be. He must be against his enemies, brave; and to his friends, good-hearted, generous, open, and loyal. He must protect the weak in his care. He must hate lies to his confederates, meanness to his comrades, and all cowardice. He must be insensitive to fear, disgust, and pain, and also to the weakening claims of all the softer sentiments — because he must be a good warrior and a stern enemy.
I think that we all know enough of human nature to know that in such a primitive society, if any individual boy had not these virtues, he must assume them; he must believe that he had them and make others believe it.
Here arose a source of confusion. Internally, for himself and to himself, a boy was, first of ali, a conglomerate human creature, compact of innumerable capacities and perceptions, incapacities and obtusities. He could not by any amount of determination or selfdeception be other than that particular individual bundle of traits which he happened to possess. He could not by any effort really conform to a type. The most he could do, of course, toward that imperative community demand was to assume an outward aspect of invincibility; while the best he could do for the race as well as for himself was to develop his own traits, each to its best use, irrespective of whether he resembled in consequence any other boy or any accepted type. The early community demanded many more enthusiastic physical fighters than it naturally produced, so the rest of the boys must pretend to these warrior virtues if they could. If they positively could not, the monastery became at last open to them. What these non-fighters did in the earlier ancient days, when opportunities to be priests were comparatively few, it is hard to guess. (Perhaps fewer dreamers were born, since the need for them can have been so little felt.) But absolute natural conformity to the demanded type was, of course, very rare. And so, from time immemorial, boys have pretended to be what they are not, as all persons do upon whom an unattainable expectation is laid. The pretence has not been conscious most of the time. They have fooled themselves, as we all do in the process of submitting to others’ expectations. So boys, personally self-wrapped and uncomprehending of others and of themselves, laugh at each other, traditionally and tribally, for showing personal feeling, special interest, or individual taste. They expect from each other acceptance of the group-demand. Often this is good.
To most boys the expression of this community-ideal comes through the ‘ gang,’ and his gang, whatever it is, — school, or scout troop, or merely his set, — is rightly his world. The gang is indeed a boy’s larger self; it makes possible for him achievements and joys that he could not compass alone; though he often follows the gang merely because he is made uncomfortable if he does not, yet much of the time he follows it because it provides him with ideas and purposes which he lacks in himself. But even in the gang boys frequently heckle each other because each wants to feel superior to everyone else, and the easiest way to do that is to believe all others inferior, and one’s own way always best. They are afraid of each other’s ideas, and of being judged by the code. They dread to be thought queer and to be teased, and yet they have to be controlled. Most potent, most firm-bedded in each boy’s own nature is the wish to rule, himself anyway, others if possible. He feels strongly the determination not to submit, the instinct to follow his own purposes, to hitch to his own star, to achieve his own victory. Here is a curious and very real ‘cross-rip’ between the wind of social demand and the tide of self-fulfilment.
Threatened and compelled externally by the buffeting fear of pain or disgrace, and of scorn or laughter from his comrades, and at the same time urged internally by the irresistible current of his own self-directive tendencies, he finds himself in a parlous position, falsely interpreted by others and misinterpreting himself. He appears at once resistive and acquiescent, rebellious and gregarious. This is his position among his mates.
Similarly, and for the same reasons, the normal attitude of a vigorous boy toward asserted authority is: ‘ I am inwardly urged to do as my ingenuity and interest prompt me. You must master me if I am to do differently.’ It never occurs naturally to him to look at what he does from any point of view but his own. He will accept naturally nothing that does not capture him; he wants his own way, and if he must seem to submit, his first instinct is to dodge. The average careless boy, for instance, does not ask himself, ‘Am I telling the truth? Am I acting openly? ’ He asks, ‘Am I protecting myself? Am I defending myself or gaining my end?’ We are so used to this, that we do not ask, ‘Why?’ and ‘Is it well?’ We merely smile or laugh or growl or sigh or reprove or scold or punish, and say, ‘Is n’t that just like a boy! ’ Lazy, inconsiderate, ingenious, and self-willed! By this I do not mean the nicest boy of your acquaintance. I mean the average boy in any big school. It is a common saying among teachers that boys are lazy, and among parents that they are self-willed, and ‘old grads’ delight in telling the ingenious selfwilled devices by which they used to ‘do’ the teachers.
So, from an ancient community-ideal embodying an imperative need, has arisen community misconception of what any given boy probably is; and each individual boy, as he grows out of babyhood, meeting this misconception, faces it out as best he may. The art and manner of assuming to be a warrior when you are not is still handed on from father to son, and from big brother to little one, all of them tragically and ridiculously unconscious of the unnecessariness, in these days, in this country, of this dreary discomfort from counter-blasts to which they are thus daily exposed. Boy learns from older boy a tradition which has been ceaselessly handed down from boy to boy since the time when men and boys were one. Of course, if he has by nature only the two simple primitive interests, if he thinks of life in terms of fighting and subduing, — of conquerors and slaves, rivals and supporters, friends and enemies, — he will behave accordingly. He will be self-absorbed, rough, and inconsiderate; or he will be bold, generous, and loyal. Although self-assertion be contrary to his nature, nevertheless, when visitors to the new baby say to the elder brother, ‘Your nose is out of joint,’ of course, he will grow jealous. He becomes ashamed of taking part where he cannot excel, and so feigns indifference toward things in which he feels no superiority. From the boys just older than himself, and from men, he learns the time-honored ‘bluffs’ by which he may create a surface of protection and gain an outward aspect of invincibility. If, being modest by nature, he thus becomes self-conscious, who has made him so? Certainly not the inanimate world; certainly not himself. He is naturally as un-self-conscious as a deer’s fawn or a bursting bud. Grown folks believe they are eager to see the world-triumph of brotherly love, yet they talk about each other and talk to children as if the old conditions of tribal defense were in full control. No wonder that modest sensitive natures are wrenched, and learn to conceal and to deny their real selves. They do it all in self-defense against a community-expectation which has lost its usefulness in the more civilized groups and yet stands firm and unnoticed, a barrier to further progress.
What we want in this modern democracy of ours is not more fighters or more blindly loyal followers, not even an increase of wise leaders: it is more able, coöperative, wide-seeing workers, each capable in his own line and ready to recognize and aid the capacity of others. Leaders are born, not made. So long as we keep our institutions and social customs plastic, natural leaders will rise to the places which need them. We have only to provide conditions by which all may become capable, willing co-workers; from among such, the rightful leaders will emerge. We cannot train leaders; we can train useful, civilized men. Our boys are ready and able now to become such men. But they do not get a fair chance, tradition so stands in their way. It raises this false expectation about them from the time they can turn over in their cribs, and it makes them take this false model for themselves as soon as they can understand a word. The false expectation is that they will be self-absorbed, and impervious to fine issues. The false model is the clan-defender.
When I say I think our boys do not get a fair chance, I mean that our present way of meeting them as they come briskly along out of infancy, expecting our companionship, is stupidly inadequate and discourteous. Boys are not young savages, tough and intractable. As a matter of fact, most young boys whom we actually know, most of our own small sons and brothers, are supersensitive and most endearingly dependent upon sympathy and praise and comprehension from those about them. They are subject, these dear little fellows, to most distressing disgusts and repulsions, fears, and physical distresses. They are very demonstrative. Sentiment is dear to them, beauty is a keen delight, and they are eager to be worthy men and true gentlemen. Yet we incline to treat every little boy as though he knew not fear, pain, or shrinking of any sort, had no sensitive spots, and should be laughed at only to his advantage. If our boy shuns girls and babies, it is because he has been laughed at; or because by them a prophetic feeling is roused in him for which he finds no immediate use — so pervasive that it gives him an unpleasant sense of being mastered — not of mastery. He feels baffled. Because this makes him uncomfortable, he calls it dislike of girls or babies. Just so he looks askance at sentiment and religion. And just so he believes that he dislikes singing and dancing and whatever else hints of a world which he does not understand. He is generally shut off from the road to that understanding by the hackneyed remarks and obtuse arrangements of his elders, instead of being helped along it by good fellowship and sincerity.
Boys, in fact, are full of how many qualities! It is boys who grow into the tender husbands and devoted fathers whom we know. It is boys who become poets and heroes, lovers, leaders, and creators. What a barbarism it is that their abundant pellucid natures should be tormented into rigid bounds or simply thrust into hiding. In most boys does not the stream of inner personality dive underground at about the age of eleven or twelve, and leave a more or less stony surface to the world? It reappears, perhaps, in college with special college mates; or not until marriage, when the husband learns to trust his wife’s sympathy; or sometimes not even until fatherhood has given him the confiding trust of children. Or it actually waits, gloomy and distrustful, until the children have grown to an age of comradeship, and then the real beauty, humor, and tenderness well up again. Yet, sadly often they never reemerge, but the man goes on to the end, puzzled about himself, and misunderstood by everyone else.
But more of an obstacle than common sense to inquisitiveness from us and to a lack of reserve in him is the blessed fact that he does not himself know what are his hopes and purposes, why he loves and how he is to create. He evades these thoughts, instinctively seeking to live in the present and to avoid invasion by serious far-sighted persons. Boy or man, he frequently has no real notions or emotions. So he seldom knows the real reason why he does anything. What he is going to do and be, he knows even less. Much that he does he does instinctively, to conceal from us some feeling or thought which is too strong for him to understand. He is so very demonstrative that he early learns the absolute necessity for control. Of course, the pity of it is that, by poking fun at him, we stupidly drive him to complete self-repression, instead of respectfully helping him to learn a judicious and satisfying partial expression.
In consequence of this tendency to live in the present and to be unaware of his inner self, a boy seems ordinarily to stay young a long time; he never assumes a virtue until it has become necessary or desirable to him; he waits to express himself till his knowledge shall have related itself to himself; and he dislikes to display a power until he masters it. He is not really young, he is only inexpressive. He is growing inwardly, from the centre. Thought will show on the surface in due time. His mind is fixed on immediate purposes and projects, on prompt achievement, and on the masterful handling of his present opportunities, materials, and experiences. He can, and he usually does with incredible success, shut off from his consciousness all side considerations, all surrounding circumstances, and obvious by-products of his line of thought or action. He can fail to see to right or left, but he sees straight on to the end of what he is looking at — or he at least tries to see it and thinks he succeeds. So he can be amazingly blind to necessary by-products of his own course of reasoning. This makes him often seem incredibly selfish or stupid. To a boy, life is a succession of experiences. He himself is the centre of life. All things else are events of a drama, elements in a project, obstacles to a purpose, or aids to an achievement. How this, that, or the other action on his part will affect other people or even himself, inwardly, does not concern or occupy him, except as other people’s resulting action may affect his own results in the aim which he is just then pursuing. For this reason we find many chums, but few intimate friends, among boys.
Very seldom, indeed, is a boy much interested in persons, and very little of his attention does he give to the significance of human relations. This sort of impersonality is equally characteristic of the most unselfish and of the most selfish boys, of the boy who becomes the beloved physician as truly as of the boy who becomes the social robber. A boy’s capacity for not knowing the personal affairs of his best friend is limitless. He is absorbed, not in persons but in pursuits; for him, persons are, as it were, things, elements in his own problems. He senses neither other people as they might know themselves, nor himself as he might be known. That is not his affair. If he is interested in other people’s inward life, it is not for their sake, but to add to his own store of knowledge.
So it comes about that we may call boys very impersonal. But, in another sense, we may call them very personal; in the sense that they are interested in the whole universe only as it relates itself to their own personal interests.
Surely, the fact is that a boy’s conscious life is intensive. I can but think that we do not half enough consider this in trying to understand him, or half enough allow for it in the chances we give him for growth. What he observes in any mood is a narrow portion of his total impressions; hence his love of making what seem useless collections, and of getting up what seem irrelevant areas of information. ‘If you want to know a thing, ask a boy. He will know all about it,’ or nothing. If he is interested, he is thoroughly interested. If not, not one whit. Watch a company of boys. Each is intent upon his own way of taking the matter — even if it be the team-work for the home eleven. The eye of his mind is a dark lantern, the light of his intelligence falls in a straight shaft. His nature is built in separate compartments. This makes it possible for a half-baked boy to be sincerely devoted to his sister and yet tell ribald stories among his boy comrades — in direct preparation for being a good husband and father, while he tolerates the existence of brothels, and laughs at indecent plays.
Because of this exclusiveness of their attention, and because of this absorption of theirs in pursuits, not persons, boys are hard to invade and impress. And when we add to this lack of interest the positive impulse to self-rule and the generative quality of their impulses, it is no wonder that boys are not docile. It is no wonder that the question of discipline is ever present.
Clearly they have to be impressed in some way other than by persuasion or expectation, request or admonition. It is fruitless to drag or drive a boy. Sometimes you can ride him, but generally the way to do is to get beside him and shove with him, so that he feels that you are as himself, pointing out the bad places in the road ahead. A boy cannot see that an act is important until it becomes somehow a personal interest to him. Then he does it simply, with his whole soul. A real, capable boy will do a thing because he is interested or because he is compelled, but not because he is expected to do it; for with a boy there must be either impulse from within or compulsion from without. The force must be strong. Whatever moves him must seem to him to be irresistible. Custom, the crowd, public opinion are compulsion enough for most boys, even quite contrary to their taste; but one person’s wish is not — unless a peculiar devotion happens to exist, and this can never be counted upon for next time. A new attraction may have intervened.
While boys are still very young, under ten, they generally feel personal control to be as compulsion, and if it is strong, that is sufficient to direct them. Consequently, what they learn to believe with their heart in these years appears to them in the later years as a primary liking, a personal taste or a primal ordinance; for they soon forget how they came by this prejudice and that predilection. Their native inhospitality toward unmastered experiences makes another reason for starting them young.
Later, a boy resents personal control because he hates to be a slave, and also because it makes hurt feelings when he breaks over; but he likes law or military control because it makes authority impersonal and gives him a chance, if he sees fit, to outwit the rules of authority without hurting an individual. If he shuns preachments, it is because he feels that, if they merely bring conviction to his mind, they almost surely will not create sufficient force to make him wish to do the thing. They provide him with a chance to pretend, while they take away his hearty satisfaction in looking upon the whole thing as a game between himself and the powers that be.
Is not your boy, then, loyal? Does he not joy to follow a beloved leader? Yes — but loyalty which is simpleminded and unquestioning belongs to earlier times. The boy of eight or ten corresponds to the loyal feudatory of the Middle Ages. Our boys of twelve or fourteen have their own independence to establish. A moving cause of acquiescence may at any time be affection or admiration; but if a boy of twelve recognizes it as such, he generally refuses the job; he must believe that he does it because he is interested. Even conviction is but halfway compulsion. If he does it consciously for affection, he does it condescendingly as charity, or protestingly as nonsense, or pleasantly as a mere personal favor. It does not become a habit or take its place among his own preferences. And this is well. A boy who is led merely by his affections is a ‘sissy,’ and a man or woman who by ‘affection’ alone produces impulse in a boy weakens him.
So a boy’s parents send him to boarding-school because they are assured that there he will be submitted to an impersonal process; he will be put through a mill, as it were, and properly manufactured; under compulsion, he will learn to conform to type. They can supply no such assurance at home. Whether the product produced is the best that could have been made of him, they are in no position to know. At all events, he has the chance to be formed by strong pressure.
Suppose your boy has been brought to the age of twelve or fourteen well developed, — able, that is, to look after himself in the world, and grown-up according to pioneer standards, — in very truth full-grown. He still has ten years of ‘prolonged infancy’ ahead, before he can become a modern man, fit for the complex responsibilities of civilization, able, that is, to act upon principle, to apply a general principle to novel instances, and to see future advantage or invisible good so vividly that self-regulation is a matter of course. The last four of those ten years he will very probably spend in independence at college, under the formative influence of able men, public opinion, and a general atmosphere of intelligent thinking; or he will go into business and come under steady control, and the necessity to do something useful. But what of the six earlier years — are they productive as we now arrange them? Just here is where I believe we fail to give him a full chance.
The two fundamental truths about a boy clearly are, that spiritually his action is always generative and that mentally his attention is toward pursuits, not persons. Rearranged by these clues, the heterogeneous scrap-heap of current notions (which I collected in my opening paragraph) becomes orderly and makes sense.
A modern boy, born of civilized parents, we may define as a human being whose nature emphasizes, as none else emphasizes, activity, adventure, and conquest, with strong generative definiteness. And he differs specifically from a man in that he emphasizes activity and adventure above conquest — the process above the result.
From all of which it is plain to be seen that a boy needs for his best development, not only activity, but adventure; not only adventure, but conquest; and the more you permit him of true conquest, the more you make a man of him. His way of life should provide these three things for him in abundance. What form they should take would depend on the boy’s personal capacities. For the musical boy, it is an adventure to hear a symphony and a true conquest to play a Bach fugue correctly; for a scientific boy, the adventure may be to pursue a new bird and the conquest to mount a perfect butterfly. But every boy has muscles and lungs which need the primitive joys and violent activities. He rejoices to wrestle with the elements, and to try his strength against the forces of nature — among which forces are other boys, of course.
We, the community, have taken from him one by one all the primitive activities upon which he was wont to expend all his surplus physical energy. Nowadays he must not fight ‘except in self-defense.’ Corporal punishment, hunting, hazing, violent football, daily dangers, gaming, drinking, have all been removed; fealty, partisan pride, rivalry, jealousy, mastery, tyranny, vaulting ambition — all these we would taboo. This is not the establishment of civilized inhibitions; this is stoppage. Fear, pain, and rage and fierce desire have been the chief sources of action and the great generators of force in men since man was. His proper job is to fight a good fight, and pit himself to win against something all the time. If the only obstacles which we offer are rules and masters, he will pit himself against those. It is the old, old instinct, the need to struggle and to overcome. ' Battle’ to him means strife, not carnage. Death and slaughter are mere accompaniments. It is not the blood and the devastation that he loves: it is the vivid conflict, with its visible risk and keen excitement. ‘Fighting’ to him does not mean destruction. It means overcoming. It means the chance of conquest. Destruction seems merely a necessary incident, deplorable, but unavoidable.
Nor does fighting necessarily mean enmity. Only our stupidity makes it carry that evil connotation. Boys must have danger, vigorous physical struggle, and quick result. If you have a little son who hates to hear tales of fighting, do you not feel an uneasy fear that perhaps he has trouble ahead, through lacking virility? Fighting is not killing; fighting is the hope of achievement. Adventure and invention are fighting; so is the pursuit of an ideal, the struggle for a principle, and the capture of a truth; all these involve fighting, and any private, personal victory brings more joy, though less glory, than a collective victory. Hence, in democracies, where each man is free to have a personal struggle throughout life, men care less and less for wars, and need them less. Fighting is here in the world to stay — but it is a personal fight; that is, each man wants to feel that he has done a good thing himself; any triumph makes him equally glad. Peace must provide fights and physical activity. We in our community have sought to set aside fist-fighting and to discontinue the pain of corporal punishment, that the higher faculties may be developed— toleration, sympathy, unselfishness, justice, and their mates.
But — here is a flaw. Because a faculty is more recently developed, it is not therefore higher. Usually, because it is newer, it is weaker and more erring. At best, it is but additional; not higher in itself, but making the whole higher. The high-grade man retains all his faculties, the primitive as well as the recent. Love of power, old though it be, still is, and forever will remain, the only releasing motive of human energy. If our own power is not sufficient, the next best joy is to behold the power of another and to lend our aid to his victory. So soon as the sense of power deserts us, and the possibility of achievement disappears, then life is stale, bitter, and useless; hence the pathos of old age.
Therefore, in setting up any new community ideals we must give the superfluous energy of boys sufficient occupation to ensure them a sense of power, struggle and achievement. If that energy is simply checked, it will and does take annoying side-channels, because boys have so little inventive resource of their own. Our American boys in other generations have had independence, responsibility, and adventure; they have been belligerent in their own way. They have battled with the elements, and tried their strength and cunning against the forces of nature. If we are providing nothing to take the place of such activities except organized athletics and supervised lessons, we must not yet expect a very satisfactory crop of better men. Games and lessons will not suffice. Such things provide no adequate struggle, no independence, no responsibility, or adventure — only a harmless activity and a formal kind of conquest; they all are good as far as they go, but ridiculously inadequate for young fellows who are really not children at all, but old enough to be their own masters — if only modern life were not so complex.
Of course, the fact that, for youth, every experience is new and is a discovery, does count for much. But it is not enough. We must get the accidental back into our boys’ life. And if we are to keep their independence alive, we must give them something creative to fight for, and something actual to fight against, all the time. We must give them vigorous practical work to do in battling toward common purposes and worthy achievements. It must be a battlefield which aims to coöperate, aid, and construct for others as well as for one’s self. It is well for us to seek peace, that we may have room to work; but the peace which we seek must not be placidity, or settled order. In it, the boys must use their strength to fight valiantly against all sorts of dangers and difficulties — only not against people as enemies, that is all.
Boys are chiefly interested in ‘something doing.’ What they want to do will depend upon what they have learned to find desirable. What they want to fight will depend upon what they have learned to find hateful. They must have action. We elders are responsible for the ideals which prompt any special action. We begin early to mislead their minds. We still say to the smiling two-year-old, gazing at his mysterious, funny little baby brother, ‘Are n’t you jealous? ’ And to the fouryear-old, we say, ‘Look, Johnny, can you do this? You would n’t let him do better than you, would you?’ We ask who is the best in the class, and we call his fellows his ‘rivals.’ In regard to every discussion, we talk of attack and defense. Ambition we make a wish to excel others, and competition a wish to destroy others. Verily, there is much vocabulary to be sloughed, and many stock ideas to be got rid of, before fathers and mothers can safely speak without thinking before their children.
Ask yourself what gives you most trouble with the grown-up boys whom we call men, in committee work, in business relations, and in public service — in fact, in any effort to work democratically, which is to say, coöperatively. It is not chiefly the incapacity of each man to see any point of view but his own, retarding as that is. It is not chiefly their incapacity, inexperience, or even credulity. It is jealousy; it is rivalry; it is treacherous and self-seeking suspicion. Self-importance, touchiness, exigence, fault-finding, the imputing of motives, and the unwillingness to act upon other people’s ideas, all these are signs of jealousy, and they come from the habit of fixing one’s mind on persons as rivals, — on one’s self versus the others, instead of on the job. They are sadly fostered by the notion that, wherever two things or two persons are juxtaposed, one is best, and should be uppermost.
In this country you cannot impress upon your boy his life-opinions before he is ten; but you can impress upon him an habitual expectation, that is, a conception of humanity, and a notion of his own relative attitude toward difficulties and toward persons. What parents say and do in the presence of their children can teach that. You can establish his motives, too. Good sense, good-will, sincerity, self-restraint, and social cohesion reside in a nation just in proportion to the real democracy of feeling that is shown its boys and girls in the nursery and the school. Democracy knows that every man’s interest, rightly used, helps every other man’s, and that men are never natural enemies. In this country we all must fight, not enemies, but obstacles, and not so much against anything as for something. We must see what we want and struggle toward it — as does the whole creation. We want to raise our boys to be soldiers, and our boys all want to be soldiers. They are full of fight. We do not want them to spend their fine talents on the primitive vigors of fisticuffs and firearms. But we do want them to be brave soldiers of some sort, and even fighting in the trenches is better than no valor. What they will wish to fight against depends on their intellectual and physical constitution and their basic stock ideas, those cherished notions that they get into their heads before they are old enough to think.
These notions come largely from the community-ideal. Wherever that shifts in recognition that civilization is really possible, there a new demand grows up. And there a new conception of a satisfactory boy grows up to meet it. A civilized man is a highly artificial product. He is the result of purpose and determination. He does not appear by accident; he is not a sport or a variation of species. A civilized man is not a product of nature at all. He comes by taking thought. He is laboriously produced by his own community. Wishing will not bring him. Only according as we deliberately give our boys a chance, will they become men of a new world. The more they are hemmed in by the visible ingenuities of other folks’ brains, the less chance have they for growth. Each invention is one man’s conquest, but another man’s barrier. Inventions have no civilizing power. Unless a boy can learn to jump them or use them to his own ends, they will not civilize him, but will stultify him. Civilization is behavior, and it springs from consciousness of values. It comes, not by growth, but by choice.
Here then are our sons and our brothers, vivid, immediate, compelling. They have a right to growth and a need to be civilized. They are the pride of our hearts. Eager for mastery, keen for adventure and achievement, ready to devote themselves, in complete selfforgetfulness, to whatever has force to compel or impel them — they like a thing better, the better it is, if only they apprehend it. They are very real boys; no wonder their parents have pleasure in them, and no wonder we all rejoice in them. What are their fathers and mothers doing with them that suits their true natures? What enlarging experience, what satisfying skill, what deep-lying interests does the community allow them? Here are good material and sufficient force. At present, for six years after they have become equal to pioneer men, they are usually treated as children. Their world has no real use for them. An adequate use should be found—a use productive, creative, and friendly to self-expression, yet at the same time exciting, hazardous, and resistant, so that battles may be waged and strongholds lost and won with cheerful immediacy. War is as natural as earthquake. It should be a purifier and clarifier of hearts and purposes; as it most surely is, where hearts and purposes are ready to go right. Fear, pain, and rage and fierce desire are good; not spent in gusts and paroxysms, but used as power to gain some difficult good. Pursuit, struggle, and capture, danger, difficulty, and fatigue are good; not to gain mean ends, but to make ideals real. These fervent heats are necessary to real life. Real boys must fight, and they must fight for something worth the vigorous conflict and the high endeavor.