Speak up

“We’ve got to make noises in greater amounts! Soopen your mouth, lad! For every voice counts!” – Horton Hears a Who

Most moms are tough. We get our kids through teething, potty-training, and Little League. We learn about nutrition and keep our physicians and teachers accountable.

We don’t frighten easily.

I used to be that way, but raising two boys and getting them through high school is scary. Like, somewhere between Dead Zone and The Exorcist scary.

So far, most of my concerns seem fairly normal. I don’t want my teenage sons stoned or hammered anytime soon. I’d prefer they not get anyone pregnant. The flu better stay away.

I also wish they’d learn how to put their underwear inside the hamper and properly clean a toilet sometime soon.

See what I mean? Nothing out of the ordinary.

I don’t nag, lecture or make decisions for them, that’s not really my style. Instead, I think up ways to sneak serious topics or life lessons into normal conversations.

“Please pass the Sriracha. Oh and speaking of fire, did you see that Vine with the college kid lighting a shot of whiskey and then swallowing it? If you do that, you’ll end up like Uncle Fred.”

Trying to ward off disaster before it happens isn’t fun, and really eats into “me” time – I barely have enough energy to work, write, and answer hate mail. I don’t really need anything else to think about, and then my kids come home with a story that takes my normal concerns and raises them to a whole new level.

One of their first high school teachers was hard to handle, a bit of a diva. Opinionated about everything and expressive in ways that make Nathan Lane seem demure and ladylike.

My kids have difficult relatives, not me, and are familiar with irrational behavior. They recognize this teacher’s cues, both verbal and non-verbal, that suggest the best way to get through the school year is to agree with him. After only a few weeks, fellow students reached the consensus that life is much easier, and better grades are more likely, if everyone simply goes along with whatever this teacher says.

I looked at my boys and tried to figure a way to tell them this philosophy is popular and widespread, but wrong.

Those same high school students who believe it’s dangerous to disagree, especially with a teacher who has some power over their grades, will find a similar excuse to stay quiet next year.

And the year after that, and the year after that.

For the rest of their lives.

They will go along with what their friends say for fear of rocking the boat. They will keep their mouths shut all through college because they’ll be convinced that taking a stand will keep them from graduation, a coveted intern position, or quite possibly a future career.

They will stay silent when their spouses rant and rave, because they don’t want to break up and start over.

They will live a life of quiet desperation, forever in prisons of their own design. I meet people like this all the time, convinced that living out loud, diverting from the path of least resistance, could bring negative reviews, lower pay, or worse – unemployment.

It doesn’t matter that they see the opposite happening, sometimes right in front of them. They still say that they could lose their jobs for “stuff like that” even while watching people get promoted for “stuff like that.”

Those who believe being bold is dangerous might have a slight point, but to me, it’s far more dangerous staying silent.

I’ve had a few close calls. The head of the English department where I taught high school once gathered signatures and a petition to fire me for “inappropriate” columns. There was a certain amount of pressure, from well-meaning colleagues and friends, to change my wicked ways.

I ignored all the anonymous emails sent to me and my principal. I will admit that the day I was called down to the front office, I had a moment of self-doubt. I thought I might be disciplined or fired. Turns out that principal was concerned for my safety and wanted to remind me that if I felt threatened, the resource officer was “armed and ready to help.”

Gotta love Florida.

In other words, nothing happened. I eventually left teaching to write for two of the biggest newspapers in town and that department head got divorced and moved to Idaho.

I’m sure not all stories involving mouthy broads have happy endings. However, more often than not, that old inclination to “go along to get along” is just an excuse for lazy people to do and say nothing. Because it’s easier.

I told my kids that I’m thankful for this teacher, and the important lesson he’s teaching them.

It’s a lesson they won’t find on their syllabus.

He’s teaching them how it feels to stand up to someone, defend ideas that might not be popular, and to deal with the consequences that come along as a result. They’re learning it’s not easy to say what we think, but we do it anyway.

Because the longer it takes for them to stand up, the more comfortable they’ll feel sitting down…and rolling over.

And that’s way worse than the flu.