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Maybe It Ainít The Kids


J. D. Pendry


Rarely a day passes without me hearing some well meaning yet oblivious to reality adult mention the poor quality of todayís youth.Whenever I hear their comments, my aging brain gears kick into action and I recall some things that maybe theyíve forgotten.


I remember me in 1969 as a longhaired, bell-bottomed, high school hippie wearing natty torn jeans, tie-died t-shirts, and sandals.A pack of Marlboros in the flip top box was always in my pocket, there was a lighter fluid burn on my leg from a leaky Zippo and I was always looking for the opportunity to steal a can of Dadís Schlitz beer from the fridge when he wasnít looking, which was all too often.I was a country boy only two years transplanted into Chicago and trying hard to fit in.Didnít work.I may have looked like a hippie, but when I opened my mouth to say, cool, it jumped out at you in a one syllable rural twang instead of oozing forth with that slick urban sophisticated, multi-syllable keeewwwwwwlll.When the LSD and pot appeared, Iíd find a reason to slink away.Teenagers on Purple Haze mesmerized by black light posters of Andy Warholís soup can or a hippie striding over rainbows was, to me, strange at best.They would have really flipped out had I taken them to a hilltop in wild wonderful on a clear night and have them look at real stars.I was a flower child failure.Two years later, while my hippie peers were still burning their draft cards and yelling their pot strengthened mantra, ďHell No We Wonít GoĒ I enlisted in the Army.I had a brother just returned from Vietnam.He enlisted right out of high school also.I was raised with an expectation of service.My Dad served in WWII.It was where I came from, and the examples I followed that led me away from the flower children and into the service.A choice Iím grateful everyday that I made.So, when you start passing judgment on todayís average kid, chances are he or she is just trying to fit in.Just remember that teenagers hang out with teenagers, generally not with old fogies.When itís necessary for them to make the tough decisions, most will find a reason to slink away and make the right one.


Fast forward to 1999 and Iím standing in a high school classroom.No, Sam, I wasnít still a student.Whatís odd, is that with most every student walking through my classroom door, I could see a little of me.Kids want acceptance from their peers and from adults.The difference is, they must look like their peers to gain acceptance from them.Itís the first rule of camouflage - blend in with your surroundings.I discovered, rather quickly, that some of the strangest looking kids with regard to appearance and assorted body piercing when taken from the crowd were often the most polite, bright and attentive.When they were in uniform once a week, their transformation was interesting.Once, while using the gym for a drill class, one of the coaches walked up to me.He was a likeable guy, taught PE and driverís Ed Ė sophisticated stuff.He pointed to one of my students, who was also one of his football players, and said, ďIt scares me to death to think that he might be going into the Army, dumb as he is.ĒThe kid wasnít dumb at all, but thatís how the coach viewed him, treated him, and in return he got from him what he expected to get.One of my top students was apt to come to class with purple hair, or maybe even green.Another would wear Megadeath t-shirts, a trench coat and shorts.Both would have failed with me had I judged them first on their appearance.The difference is that when I saw them walking through the classroom door, I flashed back to 1969 and I saw a little of myself.


Rewind to 1972.I was a 19-year-old Private in Korea.Like most 19-year-old Privates in Korea at that time, my mission was to know every girl in every GI club along the strip in Uijongbu and to drink all of the beer on the Korean Peninsula.It was a tough mission, but I thought I was up to it.Work, Army Ė all of that stuff was just a means for me to achieve my mission and the time spent between Reveille and Retreat served only to delay me from it.I was at that proverbial fork in the road.I grew my hair to the absolute limit Ė which was quite long in 1972.I never fooled with drugs, but could get high from the stench of burning pot just by walking through my barracks.At 0600 one morning, a workday morning, I watched a sergeant first class shotgun 3 beers before going to work.Thatís how many he needed before he could stop shaking.With his actions, he was encouraging me to be like him Ė to head down his fork of the road.As an impressionable teenage soldier, I could have very easily walked down that path with him or with my drug-abusing comrades in the barracks.Fortunately, I worked for a first sergeant that thought it was worthwhile to invest a little time in showing me what the world was like down that other fork in the road.Maybe he saw a little of himself in me.I donít know for sure if he did or not, but Iím thankful for his effort and the outcome.


Fast forward to the present and weíll get to the heart of this story.Take a hard look at the young people Ė soldiers Ė that you lead or role model for.Some of them may be physically weak.When you were a brand new private, I seriously doubt that you were in better physical condition than the sergeant who was training you was.I know I wasnít.Young people are going to have different interests from you and itís more important to them to be accepted by their peers than it is to be accepted by you because they donít hang out with you.They need your time, your patience, and your insistence that they meet standards.They want your acceptance, but social norms require that they have acceptance from their peers also Ė even if itís a camouflaged acceptance.They will work to gain your acceptance given the right example to follow and motivation Ė or reasons Ė to follow it.But, hereís the most important thing to remember.Young people are going to follow the example of the leader or role model thatís most prominent in their three-meter zone.†† The choice you have to make is whether itís going to be you, a drug-abusing peer, or the alcoholic SFC shot gunning beers for breakfast.And, if any of them goes astray maybe it ainít the kids you need to be looking to for the reasons why.


Copyright © 2002, James D. Pendry, All Rights Reserved