The Wind in the Willows

Who is the Great American Hero? Well, the typical image of the hero is John Wayne or Clint Eastwood: the tough guy, the loner, riding into town to do battle with the bad guys—then riding into the sunset, as alone as ever. But a recent book by Vigen Guorian, Tending the Heart of Virtue suggests this may not be the best model for our kids to emulate. Why not? Because the capacity to be a virtuous person is intimately bound up with knowing how to be a good friend. One of the best ways we can teach our kids about the value of friendship is by turning off the movie channel and dusting off the best works of children's literature, like Kenneth Grahame's classic book The Wind in the Willows. It tells a charming story about a mole who leaves his underground home in the English countryside and makes friends with a water rat. Through his new friendship, Mole discovers a fascinating new world, populated by Badger and Otter and Toad and a host of other colorful animal characters. The Wind in the Willows was one of C. S. Lewis's favorite children's books—and it's safe to say he knew something about the subject. The story shows "how friendships can form us into stronger and more integrated persons," Guroian writes. "Mole is called out of his womb-like home to become a friend to others," and his character develops precisely though learning to be a loyal and giving friend. To quote Guroian again, “Modern psychology confirms that common stock of human wisdom which says that children ought to have friends, and not just any friends, but [ones] with real virtues that in combination contribute to the moral growth of all the friends." And when a child goes astray, it is often his friends who call him to accountability. In The Wind in the Willows, Toad suffers from uncontrollable appetites that threaten his own destruction. He is lucky to have friends who love him enough to act severely with his weaknesses. Led by the tough-minded but loving Badger, they confront Toad about his excesses, and fight off the vicious stoats and weasels who have taken advantage of him. What else are friends for? The view of friendship that Kenneth Grahame expresses in story form comes from ancient times. It was the Greek philosopher Aristotle who wrote that friendship "helps the young to keep from error; . . . [and] those in the prime of life it stimulates to noble actions… for with friends men are more able to think and to act." Even more important, friendship reminds us that in Christ, God himself has called us His friends. As Guroian writes, "friendships sound the call to a higher and transcendent communion with God. Now, I enjoy a good Western as much as the next guy, and John Wayne and Clint Eastwood are among my favorites. But why not introduce your children to a different kind of hero, a hero who is not afraid to be a friend. One who will do battle, not as Clint Eastwood does with the outlaws and the crooks, but one like Badger, who helps his friend Toad conquer the demons within.


Chuck Colson



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