When my then 10-year-old daughter wanted to go to the middle school dance, along with her other first year middle school girlfriends, I said “No.” I felt she was too young to begin this excursion into territory she was unprepared to navigate. I also wondered what she would look forward to -- what future forbidden escapades would she be lobbying me for 4 years later when middle school dances were so, yawn, yesterday.
This was not an easy decision to make. Nevertheless, I persisted. I said No.
It wasn’t easy because I knew that she and her friends would be furious with me. And, because I would see them every day at school. They were in my classes. And never mind that I couldn’t successfully make my case to the staff that it was inappropriate for 10-year-old girls to attend a dance with 14-year-old girls. And boys! They knew this wasn’t right, but they worried about drawing lines of distinction in the pre-pubescent sand, about being confronted by the students, and perhaps, some of their parents -- their base.
The staff and its leader knew that 10-year olds weren’t socially equivalent to 14-year-olds. They knew they didn’t have the necessary experience to meet the challenge of being approached by sweaty, awkward boys in a dimly lit cavernous space to ask them to dance. Or worse. Or, not being asked to dance at all. Where was the staff’s courage of convictions? Where was their sense of doing what’s right for the community that we had so intentionally cultivated to be thoughtful and kind? Values which now translated into conflict averse, a condition that can be its own kind of dangerous.
When leading a community, especially one that comes to depend on us to protect them, we have to do what’s right, regardless of the cost. Regardless of what’s at stake. Regardless of how popular we will be. Or how much the aggrieved might protest, or scream and yell or threaten, even if we risk not getting our contract renewed. We do what’s right for the greater good of the beloved community. It’s the least we can expect from teachers and school principals. And it should be the least we expect from Congress when an emotionally unprepared student gets invited to the Big Dance.
NB: I offered my daughter a pajama party for her and her friends the night of the dance. They eagerly said Yes. They were relieved. It turns out, they never really wanted to go the dance in the first place, but they didn’t know how to say No and needed a grown-up to do it for them.
Photo: 30 years later with my daughter, now a mother of two.