Our morning ritual at school includes a trip to the cafeteria for breakfast where one of the favorite treats is boiled eggs. Yesterday at breakfast I was peeling a particularly stubborn egg for a remarkably patient child. In my frustration with the task, I remarked about its stubbornness. “What is stubborn?” asked one of the children and a conversation ensued. “It means sticky!” suggested one child in response. Though it was an unusual synonym, I think he was on to something worthy of note.
I paused to wonder with the children about the value of being stubborn, confessing my own tendency to be so. Though I am aware that the word is rarely used in a complimentary fashion, I find that its value is often underrated. In truth, every one of the children have stubborn streaks. Survival demands it. Without a tenacious will to survive (read: stubbornness) these children would have faded into the woodwork rather than demanding a response. Looking around the breakfast table, I have to give thanks for the stubbornness that instinctively fuels their will to live.
It was of course later in the same day that Miles refused to finish the final page on his end of year test. Even after a confrontation with another staff member and separation from the group, he would not budge. In fact, a half hour went by and then another and another. A guest came bringing treats and special activities and still Miles was sitting silently with his unfinished test. Coaxing, threats, planned ignoring… we had plenty of time to try it all but the bottom line is that his stubbornness out witted all of our schemes. Finally at the very close of the day, for reasons not readily apparent, he made a different choice. He wanted to drink the awaiting soda and so he (in a matter of minutes) finished the test and rejoined the class. On his own terms.
In my adult life my stubbornness is most often felt as I guard pieces of my truth. People around me may have different and at times even competing versions of the same story, and the more threatened mine feels the more tenacious my hold. This is not, I realize, my most endearing quality. As I consider the cost for Miles, I realize that every time we cling we not only develop our muscles (which is valuable) but we also miss opportunties. Sometimes the cost is well worth reward, other times not so much. In and of itself, stubbornness is value neutral; it is an incredible tool that can be used for good or ill.
While the particular behavioral expressions of our stubbornness may not be helpful, as I welcome the clear blue sky this morning I am so very grateful that the children feel the value of holding onto something precious. Kicking a desk, or worse a teacher, is not acceptable; but for a child in crisis it is a small price to pay to extend a measure of self determination. And in a world where survival is tenuous, such self reliance is key. While I correct and redirect towards more positive expressions, I secretly cheer the strength that such egregious behaviors belie. I look forward to the day when the passion can be channeled more appropriately, but for today I celebrate that the passion has not yet been extinguished.
Let’s face it, boiled eggs can be a pain to peel. Sometimes downright annoying, so much so that we may be tempted to simply throw them away. But the simple goodness of the egg once peeled? Well worth the struggle. The children’s stubbornness, and for that matter my own, are testaments to our determination to hang on to what is of value. So my hope for this new day is simple: that our best selves be sticky.