Bravery sometimes means getting laughed at...

My 9 yr. old son got an extreme Mohawk a few months ago. It was a super adventurous cut and I was a bit nervous for him. But since I'd given him freedom to express himself with the haircut of his choice, I was very supportive. He loved the cut and in the end, I was happy that he chose such a unique way of expressing himself.

I didn't think much of the haircut until we went to school. As soon as he walked in to the yard, everyone started commenting. One of his buddies turned to me and asked, "Why did you do that to your son?" Horrors. His mom quickly admonished him in Thai, then I explained that it was a haircut my son wanted and it was a perfect one. He chose it. Then out of the corner of my eye I saw a group of boys pointing at my son and laughing. My heart sank.

While I prepared my young boy to make a bold and individual choice, cultivating his self expression, I didn't prepare him for the push back that happens when you make choices that are unique.

This is the thing...

When you are authentically you in a culture that promotes sameness you risk getting ridiculed, criticized and even excoriated. (In some cultures, sadly, even killed.) This fear is real and being disconnected from friends or being laughed at and even bullied keeps many of us from living our lives authentically and doing many things, including most importantly, being who we are. We risk reaching our full potential when we get the same haircut everyone else does, you know what I mean? We risk reaching our greatest selves when we hide our authentic selves. Also the world misses out on your unique expression.

I didn't warn my boy about school yard judging and how to handle it. But the lessons that I learned from my 9 yr. old were profound.

Later that day, when he was home I quietly asked him how his day went, bracing for the worst. His day was great he said. I prodded. "Did anyone make comments on your cut?" Yes, lots of his classmates did and several of the girls in class laughed at him. To his face. "How did you feel?" I asked. And this was my lesson: My son said: "I'm sad for them, I love my haircut."

My young son's act of bravery in the face of severity (a bunch of mean girls laughing at you to your face is damn hurtful ) was inspiring. So what others laughed at him, he was clear that that had nothing to do with him.  Would you get the haircut again? "Of course mom. It's my haircut. No one else has it!" he said.

I expressed how proud I was that he did not take the mean girls and boys personally. He understood at such a young age that how others react to him is beyond his control and that it's a reflection of who they are. I told him that he was courageous to get a different kind of haircut than anyone else in the school. This was the kind of stuff that makes you a great leader I explained. And I added that other kids will follow and soon enough, they did. Weeks later more and more kids came to school with different versions of my sons Mohawk.

You see, we go through our lives not wanting to get our "Mohawk" because we want to belong, to please others, to fit in. In the process, we lose our internal compass. But, it's never too late to express yourself. The world needs individual expressions.

It reminds me of something I heard Miles Davis during an interview about all the musicians he inspired. He said something to the effect: You don't flatter me when you play like me. Play like yourself. And it brings to mind his other famous quote: Sometimes you have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself.


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