rebelling against low expectations

Paris Youth Riots


With torched cars, violence, and unrest filling the streets of Paris, Louis-Vincent Gave provided some particularly insightful analysis in his article, “The Arab Street Erupts: Why Paris and Why Now?” In the article Gave outlines the failure of government schools to assimilate poor and diverse ethnic groups into French society and persuasively points to the elimination of the military service as a primary cause of France’s current riots:

To explain what I mean, let me backtrack ten years. At the time, I was an officer in French infantry. Every year, our battalion, just like most battalions across France, would get a fresh batch of new conscripts. Our job, as officers, was to train these young men, usually aged 18 to 21, and make soldiers out of them….

The young men we had to train came from all sorts of background: young kanaks from New Caledonia, young Arabs from the ghettos, farmers from the Cantal… Most of them came in dragging their feet. Some of them were afraid. Others defiant. Some of them could hardly read and write. Some were bright. Others less so… But by the time the Army was done with them, most of them had become true Frenchmen. They knew their national anthem. They knew how to salute the flag. They knew how their forefathers had died in battle; and they had learnt to respect that self-sacrifice (the Tirailleurs Senegalais, the Algerian Harkis, the Moroccan Zouaves… often covered their units in glory on behalf of France).

Sometimes, after a year, though the Army was done with them, some of these young men were not done with the Army. Some volunteered for extra service because they knew that a return to the ghettos would see them dead, or in prison. Others had learnt tasks (truck-driver, cook…) which they could take into the private sector for gainful employment.

For many young men, the French Army had become a last chance. And this last chance was extremely valuable for all the young immigrants, who, as mentioned above, are simply not being integrated into French society through school, or their environment. The Army taught these men that one did not need to be born French to be French. After all, the unofficial motto of the Legion is “français par le sang verse” (French by the blood spilled).

Finally, the mandatory military service rendered one more function: it took off the streets each year a number of 18-21 years old and focused their natural aggressiveness on military training. And as we know, most crimes are committed by 18-21 year olds. So getting the young men off the streets and into military barracks, helped maintain crimes rates lows.

So the idea that the “stick” does not work is absolutely wrong. It works. We’ve used it. And we have seen the wonders it can do to young men of 18 who had, until then, never been given a taste of discipline. The problem with the stick, of course, is that it can’t be given in short bursts. One doesn’t teach discipline in a few hours…

I. Gave is on the right track, but is not all the way there:

Gave makes some brilliant points, but his argument also raises an issue of particular concern to rebelutionaries; the issue of discipline. While Gave recognizes the importance of discipline, and the consequences of its absence, he traces the root of the problem only as far as to the elimination of military service. To put it simply, in Gave’s eyes, the fault rests on the government.

Now it is true that the government schools are failing miserably. It is also true that a seemingly beneficial government program was discontinued. Gave is on the right track, but should we conclude that this the extent of the problem? I would say not.

II. The Government is not solely or primarily responsible for our discipline:

It is emphatically not the civil government’s responsibility to “make good citizens.” The role of the state is not to teach self-discipline (though, if it would lead by example, that would be nice); rather, this responsibility has been given primarily to the family. Gave writes, “[T]he “stick”… works. We’ve used it. And we have seen the wonders it can do to young men of 18 who had, until then, never been given a taste of discipline.” I would hope that any thoughtful person would respond to this statement by asking the obvious question, “What was going on for the first 18 years of their lives? Where were their families?”

Those familiar with the current situation in Western Europe will tell you that the institution of the family has long been crumbling. This alone can explain young men who receive their very first taste of discipline at the age of 18. Therefore, I would argue that, by itself, a reinstatement of the military service would not solve France’s problems. When the family abdicates its God-given responsibility, and the government extends its control to areas in which it has no proper jurisdiction, the result will always be the degradation of society as a whole. What should concern all of us, is that America is headed in the same direction (albeit several decades behind) as Western Europe. As young people, and as rebelutionaries, the question we must ask ourselves is this, “What do we do to combat this?”

III. We must recognize the necessity for self-government:

The very first thing we must recognize is that, as teenagers, the only sphere of government over which we have direct, personal control is that of self government. While we can biblically exert differing levels of influence in order to bring about reform in our families, churches, and civil governments, our foremost responsibility is to govern ourselves personally according to the Word of God.

IV. Circumstances are no excuse for a Christian:

Even if all earthly institutions were to fall short of their God-given duties to train us and our fellow rebelutionaries, that must be no excuse. We would still enjoy the privilege of having God as our Father (family), our Prophet/Priest (church), and our King (state) and of having His written Word as our guide and counsel. Let us never use those circumstances beyond our control to excuse ourselves from fulfilling what we have been called to do in those areas of life He has placed under our command.

V. Prepare for your future. Expect to be involved in many spheres:

The second thing, for which young men must particularly prepare, is the responsibility of being a husband and father, a deacon, an elder, or an elected official at some point in the future. It is not unlikely that you will find yourself being many, if not all, of those things over the course of your life. As young men we must prepare to lead our families, to lead our churches, and to lead our civil governments as God grants us influence in each distinct sphere of government. Likewise, young ladies, any young man with these godly ambitions will need a wife who has prepared herself to be the helpmeet God created her to be for her husband.

These are noble callings, my friends. Each one requires the grace of humility and wisdom, boldness and courage, as well as patience and endurance. Each will require us to “do hard things” over the course of a lifetime, and especially, during this preparatory season of our lives. Do not be deceived, the character and abilities needed for these callings cannot be developed overnight. As Louis-Vincent Gave noted, “One doesn’t teach discipline in a few hours…”

VI. Developing character, a place to start:

Things like duty, honor, sacrifice, faithfulness, commitment and service, cannot develop fully during a marriage engagement, the week before ordination, or during the primary election. Our preparation for the areas of family, church, and government begins when we start taking responsibility for our chores without being reminded, when we begin practicing leadership and taking initiative, when we stop saying “It broke,” and start saying, “I broke it.” Whether they sound simple or difficult, these things make a man.

The same qualities must be cultivated in the lives of our young ladies. They must prepare to assist their husbands in raising families, guiding congregations, and leading nations. They must practice honor and faithfulness, learn to sacrifice and serve, develop a spirit of encouragment as well as an ability to advise and instruct. This preparation begins as you respect and serve your father, encourage and advise your brothers, and sacrifice and serve your family, church, and community. This may sound difficult, but they make you more than a woman; they make you a prize.

VII. Developing competence, a place to start:

Competence in any area besides procrastination, dilly-dallying, and sloth, will contribute to competence in every other area. This is because the mental, physical, and sometimes spiritual exertion necessary for one hour of piano practice, developes mental physical, and spiritual muscle that can be flexed on Algebra. That is the whole point of our post “A Lesson From The Vikings: Do Hard Things.”

What this means is that you can gradually develop the “muscle” for bigger, better tasks by faithfully “exercising” the muscle you already have on the tasks you already have. Whether you are mowing yards or babysitting toddlers, if you do the best job you can possibly do, you will be miles closer to a bigger job and a greater responsibility.

Competence in anything, even small things, is the first step towards competence in big things. Don’t expect to head up the Hurricane Wilma cleanup operations if you can’t do a thorough job cleaning your own bathroom!

VIII. That’s all for now, rebelutionaries:

Character and competence require concerted and focused preparation over an extended period of time. But great will be the reward for those who persevere; for those who, when the world seems to be sinking into darkness, do not simply curse that darkness, or set cars aflame, but rather, ignite a fire in their own hearts for the glory of God.

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About the author

Alex and Brett Harris

are the co-founders of and co-authors of Do Hard Things and Start Here. They have a passion for God and for their generation. Their personal interests include politics, filmmaking, music, and basketball. They are both graduates of Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia.


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  • I liked your advice about exercising character ‘muscles’ to develop stronger character. I love how it applies to the area of influence. We all have a certain sphere of influence. It starts with our families, moves outward to our friends and fellow church members, and extends to the many others we teach and/or effect through what we say, write, and do.

    Many teenagers (myself included) don’t feel that their sphere of influence is very significant. I personally see others in influential positions (legal interns…;)) and long for opportunities to have similar influence, though in a different way. Instead of being discontent, I/we need to cultivate what influence we already possess…to be faithful in little, so to speak, so are ready to be faithful in much. If we are good stewards of our current influence, God will give us more and provide us with opportunities to be more effective servants.

  • Alex & Brett,

    Earlier this week I sent a… lengthy… e-mail to you guys, but since then I have decided I would like to write an article in my school newspaper about the ideas you put forth in the series “The Myth of Adolescence.”

    I don’t imagine you will mind me mentioning you guys and your blog in my article, as I will certainly want to give all due credit. However, would either of you be willing to answer a couple specific questions that I could actually quote you on? Technically, I’m not supposed to quote internet sites, but if you were answering a direct question of mine, I would be allowed to quote. And it also might be a little more effective in conveying the idea.

    Reading your posts has had a huge impact on me (as I mentioned a lot in the e-mail I sent) and I want to do my part to give all the kids in my school this same incredible encouragement. (As a part of this attempt, I have already quoted you and linked to you on my own blog.)

    Anyway, I understand you are very busy, but if this is doable, I can post a few questions here or I can e-mail them to you, whichever is easier for you guys. Thanks for considering.

    To God be all glory,
    Brian W

  • Hannah: We much agree with you that we must pray for France and Europe. However, we’re a little confused as to what you saw lacking in our article (i.e. “This is all well and good … yet …”)

    We are interested in hearing how you think we can improve. Thanks. =)

  • Yes, the message they need to hear is the same on this shore as on that.

    I have the belief that people by default know that they’re supposed to build character and take responsibility as youth, but they refuse to, especially if they know it’s socially acceptable.

    I personally have had a strong drive to do great things, but have had a stronger drive to play great videogames.

    Really, I haven’t played a video game for probably….. 4 months, and even then it was only for an hour or so. So yes, I’d say at least 6 months of no real gaming activity.

    Yet still, it occupies chunks of my time. I think about “Man, it’d be awesome if I could just take a break from my scriptwriting, from my filmmaking, from my work with the horses and cattle, and just play a few minutes of Halo….”

    Now, I don’t own Halo, or any gaming console, and never have, BUT, I do own a couple computer games. Age of Empires 2, for instance.

    I just simply can’t get myself to play them, when I’ve got other stuff to do. While I want to play them, I want to very badly, I simply can’t make myself play them.

    It’s very, very weird, but I suppose I should be thankful for my incapability in the area of spontaneous time wasting.



    Well, I gotta go build some filmmaking stuff.

    Have a good day guys!

    ~ In Christ, John.

  • you’re right. *ooops!* what i had intended to say was not to assume everyone has the same background and capability to apply this to their lives, but then i realized that Biblical truth applies everywhere, and decided to shush myself–but i forgot to take out that bit.

  • all of the points that mr.gave made are true and very accurate, but he only views the situation from his military view.

    brett and alex have done an excellent job outlining all the characteristics of an ideal teenager. however, we are not talking about average american teenagers. what we are dealing with in france, germany, and many other eur-abian countries, are bored, MUSLIM young men.

    their religion does not allow them to assimilate with their host country’s culture. they take pride in standing out, and defying the “christian” westerners. also, as many of them are untrustworthy (stealing, lying, cheating, is considered clever in the arab/muslim community), they and their families are jobless, and therefore alot of them are on social security. high school is not mandatory for them, and after lounging about the streets all day, what an exciting thing when night finally comes and they have a purpose, a goal! they are all united, and gaining pleasure from the arab communities all around them who before, saw them as good-for-nothing lazy young people. now, they are standing up for their religion! they are being real men! they are fulfilling allah’s will for their lives. what satisfaction to finally be good at something, to be an object of pride at last!

  • I went to mission confrencelast night, And the guy who spoke is an Ex-muslim.
    And some of the stuff he told us was amazing & scary.

    God bless

  • “… also, as many of them are untrustworthy (stealing, lying, cheating, is considered clever in the arab/muslim community), they and their families are jobless, and therefore alot of them are on social security. high school is not mandatory for them, and after lounging about the streets all day…” – Alix

    Alix, please, until know anything about the Muslim faith, and until you’ve been to the streets of Paris yourself and talked to these youths, I really think it might be wise to refrain from these hate-filled rants based on nothing but prejudice.
    Have you ever got to know a Muslim young person? I sincerely doubt it.

    Furthermore, if you had done you might realise that, for those few young European Muslims who do become radicalised through disaffection from society, the vast bulk of their frustration is directed towards those people who lead God-less, sinful lifestyles – making them against Western irreligiosity rather than against Christianity.

    Yours, concerned,


  • Jennifer- I agree that we should not hate, as it is a sin, but that should not stop us from telling the truth about islam. Many of the verses in their holy book are rather explicit in their violence.

    The real issue is not the muslem people but their religion. We are to love them as we are called to love all people, but we are not called to love their sinful, pagan beilefs. we are to bring them to salvation in Christ, as we are commanded by God himself.

    There is more on my mind, but the mind/keyboard translation is rather akward for me at times, so thats all for now.

    In our Lord.

  • Just a thought: from what I have read in your blog, you seem to believe – at least it comes across that way – that the only goal/calling of women is to be a ‘faithful helpmeet’ and mother. I don’t believe that being a housewife is – or should be – the ultimate goal of women (as a whole). These callings are most certainly beautiful, worthy, and fulfilling ones, and I acknowledge that, but I don’t believe that all women are called to be wives and mothers. A woman holding a full-time job in the workforce or some sort of ministry, who remains single, can be just as much of a blessing to God’s kingdom as a woman who marries and raises a family – as long as her heart is submitted to God’s.

  • I agree with Lena. While some women are indeed called to be wives and mothers not all women are. Women who do not become stay-at-home moms should not feel as though they are lesser Christians than other women. While Alex and Brett are absolutely right about noble callings for men women can experience those same callings too. I doubt that God has a problem with women holding elected office or working any more than He does with women who do not work.

    While I would agree that changing families are part of the problem in France, I would question the idea that that is the only reason behind the problems there. The people that live in France are quite different from the USA. They have different origins and different problems and cannot be lumped together with Americans. I also ask that Alex and Brett present specific information about the status of families in France and Europe in general; I agree with them that the military would not solve the problem entirely.

    Also, to “Alix”: Your statement is xenophobic, ignorant, hateful, and devoid of any Christian comment. Islam is not the source of France’s or the world’s problems. Extremism, ignorance, and intolerance are the source of many problems and you are demonstrating them here! Shame…

rebelling against low expectations

The Rebelution is a teenage rebellion against low expectations—a worldwide campaign to reject apathy, embrace responsibility, and do hard things. Learn More →