Survival Skills: The Lost Art of Self-reliance

The backbone of America has always been the courage and indomitable determination of its people, no more so than in the wide-eyed enthusiasm and optimism of our youth.

But something has changed. Something fundamentally dangerous has weakened the latest generations. Not all mind you, but an increasingly significant number have no intestinal fortitude.


Some of the signs have been with us for a bit of time.

Handing out trophies for 9th place in a 9-team league.

Mercy rules to control the margin of victory (actually to anesthetize the pain of losing.)

The need for warnings about trigger words or safe zones where no one need be offended by, well, anything.

It is from the whirlwind of our disagreements that our best solutions arise. We chose to ignore this because somebody’s feelings may be hurt when we point out they are whining idiots.

Nothing better illustrates the “sissifying” (oops, trigger word warning, politically inappropriate term for those who lack self-respect or backbone)  of America than a commercial on various TV channels.

Two young men stand at the side of the road next to a disabled car. The car has a flat tire. One young man is on the phone with his father listening as the father explains their insurance company doesn’t have roadside assistance. Between the two men, they don’t know what a lug wrench is.

The father, instead of whining about the insurance company, should be teaching his son how to change a damn tire. I mean, you put the kid in charge of a several thousand pound mobile projectile lacking even rudimentary skills to perform such a simple task? It borders on child abuse.

We have raised a generation of illiterate and dependent mice on which rests the future of the country.


And then there’s the bullying phenomenon. It is as if bullies are a new invention no other generation ever faced. It’s not. Life is not fair. Get over it. I know I’ll hear from those who have some perceived example of extreme bullying, but I have an answer.

I honestly think this nonsense all began when parents switched sides in schools and adopted the mantra of not my kid, turning teachers into the enemy. If we once again gave teachers the latitude and respect they deserve, things might change. With our renewed support to let teachers quickly and forcefully address bad behavior, instead of looking for some external factor to blame, it would pay dividends in the future.

Instead, some parents blame teachers for the poor performance of their kids without making the least effort to support the teacher’s efforts at home.  Your child’s education is not something you order online; it is something you participate in and reinforce.  If your kids are failing it is not due solely to the teachers.

At the high school I attended, Cumberland High School in Rhode Island, there was a legendary teacher named J. Richard Charland.  He taught a business course and was the Dean of Students. The title Dean of Students is a kinder and gentler way of saying head disciplinarian.

When you were there, you lived in fear of crossing him. He would often tell us that he had spoken to our parents and they gave him permission to knock us around if we got out of line. Whether it was true or not, most of us believed it.

Some had it demonstrated.

Mr. Charland recently passed away and the universal outpouring of admiration and respect from several decades of CHS graduates (and even a few who may have had a shortened high school career) was telling. He made a difference and helped steer generations of CHS grads towards being better adults.

His reputation was built on a demand for mutual respect and underlying love of students. He dealt with those incidents that inevitably arise in the hormone-ravaged teenaged years firmly, swiftly, and appropriately.

No one sued the school when they addressed problems. No one blamed teachers for bad grades. No one looked to some psychological excuse for bad behavior.

I wonder if we can ever reclaim the courage, heart, and endurance that built this country if we have generations who lack fundamental respect for teachers, basic math or literacy skills, or can’t even change a tire?

Please don’t bully me or say things that may trigger my anxiety.

2 thoughts on “Survival Skills: The Lost Art of Self-reliance

  1. I ran the Mock Trial program for high school and middle school students in Rhode Island for 17 years. Looking back, I wondered if we were guilty of handing out meaningless recognition, like your example of the 9th place trophy, but I don’t think we were. Each year we gave out Certificates of Participation to the middle school students in the program. I hand signed each one (ouch) but I think the students deserved the recognition.

    Participating in a mock trial is a challenge for first year law students let alone 12 year olds. To stand up in a real courtroom in front of a real judge and play the part of an attorney or witness and know your performance is being judged by two practising attorneys would be terrifying for many adults, let alone a 4 foot,10 inch sixth grader. Then, to have to repeat your performance once more during the tournament takes courage and persistence. Therefore, I believed, and still believe that anyone who could survive a mock trial competition deserves recognition.

    On the other hand, I am vehemently opposed to trophies and awards for doing nothing. A ninth place trophy? Really? What kind of message does that send a child? Certainly not a realistic one.

    I cringe when parents utter those dastardly words, “Not my child.” I feel sorry for both the parent and child in this situation. The parent is obviously out of touch with reality and needs a course in parenting skills and the child whose every action is covered by a misguided parent is in for some very hard times ahead.

    As for parents blaming teachers for their children’s failures, when did society’s respect for teachers erode to the point where some parents look down on them? Teachers were once held in high esteem, the teacher’s word meant something. Now some parents treat teacher like servants and are quick to blame them for their own shortcomings. The negative effect of this behavior on the children is inevitable.

    1. I agree with recognizing participation, no problem with that. But life is a process of disappointments and successes. One needs to learn how to handle both. My daughter was on the Wheeler mock trial team and won the state championship one year. She’s been practicing law for 5 years now and always said how much that experience, both winning and losing, helped her with law school and her practice

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