Detachment and Trust

            The virtue of detachment can appear negative at first glance. We can be detached from material possessions, and that’s hard. We can also be detached from our plans or our self-image: that’s perhaps much harder. But while detachment necessarily has a negative quality, requiring a breaking of sorts, detachment is necessary for very positive things, such as growth or love.
            One of the positive ends of detachment is for the sake of trust. We sometimes have to be detached in order to trust, and trust is important in a boy’s education, for we are dealing with a garden, not a dollhouse. A boys’ school cannot be a dollhouse, where we dress our dolls up, and our dolls do exactly as we wish. Such a picture might seem laughable, but how far away is this from real examples of boys not allowed to run around, to climb trees, or a host of other restrictions, all in the name of safety? Such a model of education threatens to smother our boys rather than cultivate their thriving. And so a better model might be that of a garden, where we indeed work the soil, prune and water our plants, but we do not grow the plants: they grow themselves. We cannot grow the plants but we can only cultivate them – and the plants might not always cooperate with our designs! Isn’t this much closer to our boys – living beings and not plastic toys?
            It isn’t easy to trust, and that’s why it requires virtue, including the virtue of detachment. Gardening isn’t easy: it requires work, much more work than taking care of a dollhouse. It might be easier to simply write more rules (and the more rules we write, the less likely anyone reads them). When we write more rules, we cover ourselves, so to speak. We shelter ourselves from situations where things don’t go according to plan, and then we can point to our rules to protect us. But as we grow more extreme, we end up shirking our responsibility under the guise of being responsible. It’s easier simply to outlaw snowballs and avoid a broken window or a bloody nose. It’s easier to ban climbing trees and avoid a lawsuit. For giving freedom entails responsibility. If we’re going to allow wrestling, then that means we need to accompany the boys, watching and guiding their wrestling so it doesn’t devolve into a brawl, and that takes more of our time and effort. But isn’t it worth it? If a boy can’t throw a snowball, climb a tree, or wrestle, then what can he do (and what are we doing to him in the process)? Whatever he does, can it ever be without risk?
            And risk isn’t a bad thing, especially not in a boys’ school. Here we return to the negative side of detachment, for detachment can be a counter to fear. Things may and will go wrong. We want everything to go right, we want to avoid pain, but this can become crazy, detached from reality, for everything is not under our control. Any virtue entails a balance between extremes. While we don’t want to fall into being reckless, we also don’t want to fall into being fearful, timid, or cowardly. Pain is not to be avoided at all costs. Pain can be okay – it can even help us, as seen with Puddleglum in the clutches of the witch in the Underworld. As he and the children are falling under the spell of the witch’s enchanted incense, it is when Puddleglum sticks his webbed foot into the hot fire, when he feels that pain and the children smell the unpleasant stench of roasted Marshwiggle, that he and the children are free to awake from the spell and fight back against the witch. Surely, if we couldn’t feel the pain of fire, we would do great damage to our body if we were to touch any flames. While we avoid pain and suffering, we should be careful not to fall into the extreme of avoiding pain at all costs, for the costs can be great. Even death is not to be avoided at all costs, for then we might ask what we are living for? We should look with greater perspective.
            So while detachment can seem a negative thing, it bears fruit. When we detach ourselves in a healthy way from our perfect plans or our various fears, we and our boys can experience freedom and perspective. Being detached may entail consequences we don’t like, even painful ones, but accepting this is more realistic and more human. We are not perfect, we have limitations, and that’s okay. The same is true of our boys. Practicing detachment and trust may very well lead to failure and disappointment, but can thereby also bring opportunities for mercy and understanding. Living detachment and trust with our boys gives our boys space and nutrients to grow. Rather than stifling them as dolls, we allow our boys to fly. And as it sometimes is with fledgling birds, it won’t always be pretty, but we can all acknowledge the beauty and wonder of a bird in flight, and wish such goodness for our boys as we practice a bit of detachment and give them a bit of trust.