Once a week, I work with a bunch of boys aged ten to fourteen. We spend most of the time running around like mad things, building things from junk (and knocking them down again), hiking in the dark and generally learning how to get outside even when the weather is not perfect.
As a rule, they’re good lads, and I hope they will go on to become fine, upstanding members of society who truly believe that we are all created equal. Actually, now I’m thinking about it, I am sure that they do believe we are all created equal. At least in their minds. Watching and listening to them interact, however, I can see that there is a disconnect between what they know is the right answer and what their actions betray about how they actually think. The way we think is often quite different to the way we think we think, and this, I hypothesise, is where evil is permitted to enter the world.
Bold claim? Maybe. Our schools invest much time and effort in teaching our children what it means to be a fine, upstanding citizen where we are all created equal, where men and women and everyone else can live out their lives with equal dignity and value. Where we all eat Doritoes washed down with Coke whilst scraping a beautiful woman off a beautiful car before we drive it at 150mph to impress a whole crowd of beautiful women to a sports game where we run quickly, kick hard, hit hard, throw far, showing off our testosterone-soaked manhood before winning the game and waking up next to another beautiful woman.
(Incidentally, why are breakfast cereal adverts usually with a wholesome family, not a couple who have obviously just met before spending the night dirtying the sheets and not getting much sleep?)
And then the US electoral system presents us with the new king of the world. A man who boasts about men grabbing women by the pussy. A man who boasts about trolling the women’s dressing rooms at the beauty pageant he owned (it’s 2017, why do we still have beauty pageants? Single-sex beauty pageants?).
And here is my problem. My boys know the right answers in any written test about equality that I would care to give them. They would be right at the top of the class when it comes to saying the right things. What I am less certain about is whether or not they would actually demonstrate what they know to be right in an actual on-the-ground situation. They’ve got all the intellectual knowledge that we think they might need to get by, for the next generation to be better than mine, for women to be able to walk home in the dark, too drunk to stand up straight without fear of assault.
The causes are complex and run deep. One of the larger roots is toxic masculinity, but that would not survive in the absence of a thick insulating layer of I’m a good guy, so this doesn’t apply to me. The same mind-set works on the level of the nation state: We don’t need strong human rights laws because we’re a good nation: those laws are for the other, bad, states. All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. Notable in Mr Trump’s boast is that “When you’re a star, they let you do it.” They let you do it. His choice of words suggests he was waiting to be stopped. He knew that he was doing the wrong thing and was simply seeing what he could get away with (the same way that young children do), and nobody stopped him.
We have to build bridges in youngsters’ minds between what they know to be right and their actions. This woman is trying but, so far, good men are doing nothing.
Now, how to incorporate this into the programme without getting eloquently-worded complaints from their parents…