The Defiant Ones

When my daughter, Clementine, was younger, my husband and I had a nickname for her: “The Defiant One.” I remember watching her sit through a three hour “time out,” (in two minute increments), all because she refused to apologize to someone. (The person we wanted her to apologize to wasn’t even there—it wasn’t the apology we wanted as much as the promise to apologize sometime in the future.) A less honest person (such as myself) would have simply agreed to apologize, and then, when the time came, denied they had ever made any such agreement. Not Clementine, though; she had made up her mind, and little things like time outs and loss of privileges weren’t going to sway her in the least.

While we were still standing in front of Clementine my husband and I had to pretend to be strongly disapproving of her choice not to apologize; in private, however, we marveled at it. “She is so delightfully disobedient,” my husband said to me, using his best Gomez Addams voice, and I had to agree. Her powers of resistance were impressive, and if it wasn’t for the fact that she really had done something for which she needed to apologize I probably would have been thrilled at her principled stance.

In the end, the only way we got her to apologize was to explain, patiently and slowly, how she did, in fact, have something to apologize for—once she understood that she was completely biddable; in other words, reason succeeded where threats had failed, and when the time came to deliver she was as sincere and untroubled by the apology as she had been resistant to it earlier, and for the rest of her life we never had the slightest bit of trouble with her again.

Okay, I made that last part up: yes, she did apologize freely, but no, that wasn’t our last incident with “The Defiant One.” And to tell you the truth, I hope that I never do see the last one.

That’s a funny thing for a parent to wish for, I know: rebellion. But I believe that the ability to stand up for your beliefs, even when they are challenged—especially when they are challenged—is a far more valuable personality trait than agreeableness. It is a trait that will see you through the darkest times, and one that, in the end, will serve you when all others have failed. And so it is the one that I want most to foster in my children.

This might explain a little bit why I had such a nerdgasm when I heard that former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was coming to town. Sandra Day O’Connor! From the moment she graduated at the top of her class from Stanford Law school (only to be offered a job as a lowly legal secretary) to when she resigned from the Supreme Court so that she could spend time with her ailing husband, she has been a shining example of someone who has remained true to her principles, even as social mores have changed around her.

Have I always agreed with her politics? Hell, no: she was a Reagan appointee. But I have always respected and admired her ability to unswervingly stay true to her own visions. Even when that meant disappointing the women who saw her appointment as a chance to move the Court to the left. And even when that meant disappointing the Republicans who saw her appointment as a chance to move it to the right. (Okay, especially when it meant disappointing the Republicans.)

Somehow, I have a feeling that she didn’t suddenly come by those traits as an adult: I think that they were probably fostered in her right from the start. Who knows? Maybe, in her family, she, too, was known as “The Defiant One.”

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