Brother Solo and Ma Dukes; circa 2011
Barnes brother Solo tagged along with me last week when I took my mother to the eye clinic for a minor procedure. We came early. There were at least eight other people in the room, waiting in silence, reading magazine articles. I read an article in Men’s Health on finding twenty-six unconventional ways to bring your partner to orgasm while simultaneously maximizing your ab workout. Solo read the YA classic We Could Be Brothers for the third time. Maybe fourth or fifth time. Who’s counting? I made him. And my mother? She talked. And she talked. And she talked some more. Dammit, she wouldn’t stop talking.
That’s what she does. She’ll talk to herself if you’re not responding. And, unfortunately, she was born without a filter of any kind. She’s one of those mature, southern belles that prides herself on ‘telling the truth’, or ‘speaking her mind’. But for the most part , it comes off as being abrasive sometimes. Just a little bit (See, now she won’t invite us over for Sunday dinner).
Back to brother Solo. He wanted to watch a little NFL Network or Sports Center, but the drive-in theater sized flat screen on the wall wasn’t on. My mother told Solo to walk up to the desk and 1) ask for the remote and 2) “What the hell was taking so long with her appointment!?”. He turned it to Cartoon Network. I whispered to him, “Son, do you think everyone else in here wants to watch that?” He looked at me, shrugged his shoulders. My mother served as his mouthpiece and conscience. “To hell with that! He has the remote and he was the one that wanted to turn it on. Watch what you want, baby.” Solo smiled at me and kept right on watching The Regular Show. Ma Dukes is just gangster with it!
And you know what? She was right…sort of. My first reaction was to be considerate to eight strangers that never really looked up to notice that the ‘wall’ with moving animated pictures was even on. But Solo had taken the initiative to be the one to step up, so didn’t that give him the right to call the shots? To be the ‘daddy’ in the room? Or did he have a social responsibility, as a nine year old clairvoyant, to be respectful and guess the combined viewing taste of a room full of adults?
This got me thinking about that thin line between being assertive with a decisive, iron fist and being assertive tactfully. The latter is when taking charge and being a leader is not offensive, but considerate, and nonabusive. Teaching your children when to cross that line is very tricky. My daily mantra is teaching the boys to be ‘The One’. Being the person that speaks up first, to take the first step, to defend friends, or to just simply help others.
But sometimes, I’ve experienced, when you’ve taken the bull by the horns, while others waited for someone else to step forward, it is, and should be, all on you to be ‘a boss’. That’s one of the perks of being a catalyst; no one else owns the right to control the direction of the situation. Its all on you, baby. But there most certainly is a level of responsibility that goes along with that boss status. At least that’s what I teach my boys.
Responsibility without the concern of the well being, feelings, sensibilities and ideas of others is by nature the definition of selfishness.
If you want to watch highlights from Monday Night Football in a crowded room, should you at least, after you’re done, pass the remote to the little old lady next to you, who probably wants to watch the Baby Boy marathon on BET? doesn’t she deserve that? Maybe she doesn’t have the ‘stones’ to speak up (yes, the little old lady has stones. Got a problem with that?) Is it your job to give her options? Possibly. Or should you even care at all? It depends on your personality, your upbringing, or maybe your moral beliefs.
The converse is not being ‘The One’ and being subjected to the whims of someone who couldn’t care less about you or your interests. That, my friends, may lead to a condition I like to call S.O.L. which causes you to have self doubt, and kick yourself mercilessly. Sometimes we’ll spend days regretting that we didn’t campaign hard enough for our own interests, needs, desires, and goals. I mean, aren’t we doing ourselves a disservice if we assume that others should care about our well being, even more than we should? And that can be perceived as selfishness, but really its self preservation.
And don’t get it twisted, self preservation can coexist with consideration for others, especially from a leadership position. This is where the line is drawn. Kids will have to figure out when to self preserve and be quasi-selfish, and when to stand up and make sacrifices for others while simultaneously looking out for themselves. It gets tricky. People are unpredictable, and sometimes you’ll make a stand for others and get burned. That’s one of the harsh lessons of cohabitating with these crazy human beings. That will always suck, at least until there is a rewind button invented for our lives. There will never be better time like the present to do the right thing when called upon. They’ll know when the time comes. An accumulation of life experiences will hopefully teach them when to say ‘when’ or when to say ‘why not’.
The RTM hip-hop joint of the month: C.L. Smooth-“Call On Me”