Generally speaking, children have a greater capacity for resilience than adults. This is not just because they are younger. And it is not just because they have different bodies or more supple brains. It’s because, in my opinion, adults have forgotten how to fail.If you’re growing, you’re likely failing. If you’re not failing, you’re not likely growing.
· (And one caveat here: I’m not really sure that many American children today are more resilient than adults. When we swaddle our kids in bubble wrap, keep red ink off their school papers to spare their feelings, rush to pick them up every time the fall, don’t let them climb trees, and give them trophies for everything they do-we have stopped letting them fail.)
The prospect of a new adventure promises a confrontation with our inadequacies and failings. Adventure can throw our comfortable sense of self into doubt.“And happiness… what is it? I say it is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing or that, but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing.” –John Butler Yeats
To begin again does not mean that we start something new every day. That is not to begin, but to bounce. Nor does it mean that we abandon what we learned at each new beginning. But if every few years we dedicate a part of ourselves to a new endeavor, we find that we are again disciples, and that the habit of beginning is renewed. We are reminded of how we grow, we are reminded that we can grow, and we are reminded of how we profit from growth.
Or, we can decay.Virtues that are not practiced die. Resilience that is not practiced weakens. The only way to keep resilience alive-through success, through temporary comfort, and through the challenges of age-is to engage ourselves in purposeful learning at every step of life. Every master must still have a master. Every good teacher must still be a good student.
To learn resilience, children must be exposed to hardship. If they don’t meet hardship early, they’ll certainly find it later. And if they haven’t built a habit of resilience and earned some self-respect by then, the adult pain they meet probably won’t strengthen them. It will likely overwhelm them.Protecting children from all suffering is, in fact, one of the only ways to ensure that they will be overwhelmed and badly hurt one day. They will have none of the resources, the experiences, the spiritual reserves of courage and fortitude necessary to make it through future difficulties. You wouldn’t want that for your kids, and I don’t want it for mine.
There’s one sure way to build self-respect: through achievement. A child who learns to tie her own shoes grows in confidence. So does a child who learns to spell his name. so does a student who learns to stand in front of class and read his poem.
Self-respect isn’t something a teacher or a coach or a government can hand you. Self-respect grows through self-created success: not because we’ve been told we’re good, but when we know we’re good.
Not everyone gets a trophy, because not every performance merits celebration. If we want our children to have a shot at resilience, they must learn what failure means. If they don’t learn that lesson from loving parents and coaches and teachers, life will teach it to them in a far harsher way.
Children need to be loved. And part of loving is to comfort, hug, and hold them when they are hurting. Both you and I know that, especially as parents, it is our job to provide love at all times and in all circumstances. But as guys who want to protect other people, we have to realize that we can overdo this. As hard as it is to do, part of loving someone means letting her experience hurt in the right way.
In protecting too much, kind people can inflict great cruelty.
P. S. Greitens book, "Resilience" is quite possibly the best book I've read in the past 20 years.