My son Cooper is 16. He is learning not only who he is, but how he expresses himself. His approach is cautiously insistent, as he gently pushes forward in his arguments, defining lines and boundaries. Always respectful, but always testing, he forms retorts and rebuttals, the stepping stones of critical thinking. Building arguments for the sake of building arguments, expanding his thought process and anticipating possible responses, trying them on to see which fits best.
Ultimately, this process of self-expression is satisfying for a parent, particularly when viewed against the broader context of moments when our concerns for proof of discernible adolescent brain activity – anything at all – make us seriously question why the pharmaceutical companies haven’t come up with some easy, pee-on-a-stick take home test that can be used to quickly and efficiently measure the firing (or not) of our beloved adolescent’s synapses.
Today Coop came home from school with an interesting exercise in forming appropriate responses that I had to share.
Cooper goes to an all-boy Catholic high school. For almost a year, Coop has worn Tibetan Mala beads around his neck – 108 beads to be exact, marked by a sumeru, or main bead, and which are meant to absorb the vibrations of your personal mantra as you pluck through the beads while deep in meditation. Needless to say, a somewhat surprising response to Coop’s Catholic school environment, but one of the delicious ironies of life.
Now, while I don’t doubt that Coop’s Buddhist sensibilities are sincere, I have reason to suspect that he wears the Mala beads in part, because he thinks they’re cool. As shocking as that may seem! And given that his school A) is Catholic and B) has a fairly tight policy on jewelry wearing, it is no surprise that fairly routinely, a member of the administration stops and questions him about his “necklace”. And that’s where Coop’s superior reasoning skills kick in. You see, Coop has studied the Student Handbook. He knows that if he wears jewelry that is determined to be “religiously-affiliated”, the school can’t touch him. So, when he was questioned today by the school’s Principal, Father X, he confidently replied, “This necklace is religiously-affiliated, Father.” To which, of course, Father X replied, “show me the money,” as in, “show me the proof, paint your picture, make your case – prove it to me, or the beads are history.” Coop now has to deliver the research to back up his potential fashion choice.
As he shared this story with me today, I considered his position, and though I was highly, highly amused, I sincerely wanted to help him. As we worked through the courage of his convictions, I gently (not judging…I am NOT judging) posed whether he was wearing the Mala beads because of his Buddhist beliefs or because he found a loop hill that would allow him to show his superiority, in effect, by having beaten the system. He went with the Buddhist response. As we role played, I pressed him about this, to which he responded, sort of stammering, “Well, I am Buddhist…I’m reading The Teaching of Buddha…well, I was reading the The Teaching of Buddha, but I’m so busy that I haven’t been able to finish it.” Bless his little Buddhist heart, I love him so much, but that was one of Coop’s classic Coop-isms. How could you not laugh? You could literally see his face follow his own slightly, um, unrehearsed thought process to its slightly um, deflated demise. And that’s how you learn to form a compelling argument. And you know what? I bet that Coop will pick up that book now, if for no other reason, than to support his position. Not only a good Buddhist, but a sharp debater. Best of all worlds.