Is “Growing a Pair” the Antidote to Bullying?

Cameron Hamilton, the mayor of Porterville, California, ignited outrage with his comments during a recent town hall meeting when he suggested that kids “grow pair and stick up for themselves” in response to bullying.

So, why the outrage people?

His comments, while unrefined, should be initiating meaningful conversation about youth development and how we are collectively working to shield kids from bullying as opposed to molding them into youngsters who are able to navigate bullying and stand up for themselves. As adults we cannot deny the fact that the bullies don’t go away once adulthood arrives; we instruct others how we want to be treated for the length of our lives.

Unfortunately, the majority of people are going to stereotype Mr. Hamilton as a redneck and dismiss his comments after they calm down. I’ve head the term, “grow a pair,” used ad nauseam from my years in football and construction. If you “wash off” the indecency of this phrase, it’s core meaning is tied to critical personal qualities such as courage and self-responsibility. Coddling and shielding kids eliminates the development of these attributes and we’re talking about a vital life skill here.

Anyone who has stood up to a bully finds that the bully and the bullying shrinks when challenged. It takes courage to do so and that’s a great thing. I’m glad Mr. Hamilton said what he did from a political seat because it made big news and while it’s not quite how I would phrase it, I concur with his message 100%.

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Praise Your Children’s Talent to Make Them Perform Worse

From author Daniel Pink’s book Drive, The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us to clinical research performed by renowned human performance psychologist, Carol Dweck, PH.D, the data is conclusive about personal motivation – we’ve misunderstood it for eons.

Daniel Pink’s research discovered that work for reward, such as good grades for an Ipod, is actually de-motivating because at that point it’s not their dream, not their goal, but just effort for reward. Sounds like a lame job, right? The de-motivation factor in this scenario makes plenty of sense. Dangling carrots just doesn’t work like we thought.

Carol Dweck, PH.D., discovered through her clinical studies of human behavior that praising talent leads to a decline in performance, but praising effort increases it. Telling someone they’re smart will lead them to want to preserve that positive label at all costs, so they will shy away from challenge for the chance it could reveal weakness or imperfection. Whereas those praised for their effort are happy to continue to struggle to improve and take on increasing challenges; they feel good about their effort and ability to get better when applying it.

If you’re a parent or a coach, there is an incredible amount of good you can do by teaching the right mindset – a growth mindset. Excelling in any domain whether academic, athletic, the arts or business takes intense effort and continuous personal challenge to stretch your abilities again and again (growth). Success, is more about effort than it is about talent.

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Chasing the Scholarship Dream to Reality

During my junior year in high school, I spoke to the head football coach about helping me get recruited. He had a very serious look on his face when I discussed this with him, as if he were trying but couldn’t muster the courage to say something he knew would hurt my feelings. Days later, he caught up with me to revisit our talk. He explained, “Marshall, you know, I always wanted to be in the Russian Ballet.” I immediately chuckled, looking at this 6’-4” 280-pound man. However, he wasn’t trying to be funny. He continued, “Some dreams just aren’t realistic. Those big college football programs chew kids up; it’s not for you.”

My college guidance counselor punctuated this message by telling me with a severe tone, “Those guys, Division I football players, are some tough hombres. You are too nice of a kid to survive in one of those programs.” He concluded the conversation in more certain terms, stating, “You are not cut out to play big-time college ball.” My coach and guidance counselor wanted me to attend a small college where I could enjoy a gentle environment and a football program that was a step up, but not a leap of faith. That was their vision for me and I just didn’t see it their way.

Suggestions such as those are dangerous. In an instant, words like that can steal your belief in yourself, and that is when your dream begins to evaporate. Those suggestions made me more angry than anything, which turned out to be a positive reaction. The anger turned into greater inspiration to pursue my goal.

But let me tell you a little secret here: it’s not enough to get angry and then feel more determined inside your head. Get out and do the workstudy the game, understand and improve on your weaknesses, push yourself to find your physical limits, then train harder, and push yourself past them.

Importantly, I didn’t allow the words of my coach and guidance counselor to permanently deflate me because I understood that opinions are not fact. These “all-knowing” adults didn’t know me as well as I knew myself at that age. The same holds true for you. They weren’t there when I ran hill sprints until I threw up during my summer training; they didn’t know I disciplined myself to work out twice a day, six days a week during the summer while living at home alone. What I’m saying is this: no one but me knew the kind of fire I had in my belly to compete. I moved forward without their support, which was not easy, but certainly doable.

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Toxic Media’s Influence on Our Youth

Life is much, much bigger than what we see. We are all connected, though we do our best to stay disconnected from each other. We keep our heads down as we pass one another on the sidewalk, build our fences high and often remain strangers even to our neighbors.  The truth is this: All of these other people out there count, but we are instructed that they don’t by a pervasive media that influences our culture to be consumed with “I” and “me”.

The Western world has nudged me, not gently, to constantly look and live my life focused on me. Pop culture and media continuously question the value of, well, my face value. Bombarding me with messages about what I should be buying, doing, and looking like. What about being loved and respected for who you are, not what you look like or what you have? I can say with certainty that it is your character, compassion, and contribution in life that is the measure of one’s greatness. Apparently, that truth doesn’t sell in the marketplace.

The prevailing current of the messages broadcast in all forms of media are directed away from meaning and purpose in life and toward the pursuits of materialism. I was listening to a speech by the Dalai Lama in which he emphasized the great importance of our youth learning how to become beautiful on the inside. Youngsters, especially boys, must know what this is—the concept and principles of inner beauty. Such as being compassionate, generous, loving, honest and kind hearted. Living life without the knowledge or pursuit of this kind of beauty will definitely lead to emptiness in man’s life as he finds there to be no significance in what he possesses on the outside.

Well before the digital age, Martin Luther, King Jr. said, “We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

Well, Mr. King, we are accelerating in the direction of “thing orientation” at a speed not imaginable when you were alive.


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A Code to Live By for Teens

Who are you? Don’t tell me your name and where you’re from. I’m asking you a much tougher question, indeed. To answer the question I’ve asked, you have to know the answers to these questions: What do you stand for? What are your values? Where are you going in life?

At age eighteen, I didn’t know. Even though I was as focused as a sniper’s eye on my goals athletically and academically, I had not consciously defined who I was. This lack of personal definition led me to, among other things, embarrass myself with poor behavior in public. You see, when you define who you are, a code is written. This is the code you live by. I had goals, but not a code – they’re different and equally important.

Before you reach the point where you can even write a code, you have to understand where you have been and how you have been participating in the reality that you live in each day. This is important because all of the habits and patterns of behavior you have developed through your youth and starting to follow you everywhere you go. Some of these may begin to manifest in your life in ways that hinder your ability to find success. For some, these just might be bad habits like staying up late, and for others they are self-destructive behaviors like fighting and stealing.

So, what is the code you live by? If you have one, how is it serving you in life?

If you don’t think you live by a certain code, trust me, you do live by a set of values. You tell me what you value and I can tell you what kind of results you’re going to get in life and in athletics. Write out your core values, honesty is an example of a value, and post them on the wall of your room. Look at it as you leave for school and live it.

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