The Wave by Todd Strasser is based on real accounts from a high school in Palo Alto, California, in 1969.
Synopsis: A high school history class is learning about Nazism, and the students can’t understand why so many people would go along with the crimes of the Nazi regime. The instructor decides to start a club called ‘The Wave’, where the rules are “strength through discipline, community, and action”. Within this structure, students see progress not only in themselves but in their classroom and the school’s community as the club grows. Eventually, a select group of students in ‘The Wave’ thinks that everyone in the school should follow their ideas. If they don’t, they use humiliation, fear, and violence to get them to join. By the end of the book, the instructor taught them how easy and fast a set of ideas can start a movement of superiority.
Discussion: This was an interesting book, and I thought about it a lot. At the end of the book, the instructor compared the students to the Nazi’s. While there were some comparisons, such as violence toward others, hand gestures, symbols, etc., there was one significant difference. The students were not exclusive about who joined ‘The Wave’. They wanted everyone in the school to be part of the group. Therefore, the premise of the club was not one based on hate, like the Nazi regime, but one of pride. They believed their structure, routine, and practices were better compared to others, and therefore, everyone must adopt them. They wanted everyone to be the same and believe the same.
The topic I would discuss with my children based on this book would be pride. The Catechism defines pride as “undue self-esteem or self-love, which seeks attention and honor and sets oneself in competition with God.”
Pride has been called the “root of all sin”. For some reason, our human nature wants to be right in how we believe, act, look, etc. When other people believe, act, dress, or do as we do, it gives our pride a boost. We can have confidence that what we are doing is right because others do it just the same. It confirms our sense of self.
When other’s believe, act, dress, or do things differently than us, it can occasionally make us uncomfortable or make us question our sense of self. The way some people deal with these uncomfortable feelings is to mock and make fun of the other person. I explain to my children that any time someone mocks them or bullies them, it in no way reflects anything wrong with them. It reveals something going on within the other person. Their sense of self or pride feels threatened somehow, and they reflect those negative feelings on others who are different from them.
We not only see this behavior in children but adults as well. We see massive arguments about who is right between groups such as Star Wars versus Star Trek, Democrats versus Republicans, Catholics versus Protestants, etc.
We also see it within these groups. I have joined many small groups within my church and have seen many hot topics of debate between Catholics. Some of these hot topics in Catholic circles include:
shopping at places that donate to abortion providers
watching/reading entertainment with magic
the number of children a couple has or their reasons for not having more children
homeschooling versus public schools
our current pope is an extremely hot issue (stay away from this one!)
Just this week, I witnessed a debate on Instagram about what to do first when churches open back up after our COVID shutdown: mass, confession, or adoration. Apparently, which you choose determines if you understand theology correctly and are righteous.
When witnessing these debated Catholic issues, we should remember Proverbs 26:12:
These arguments start because we want what is best for the other person. We want to open their eyes to something better, enhance their relationship with God, or for them to recognize their sinful ways. We are called to admonish the sinner as it is a Spiritual Work of Mercy. It is challenging to admonish the sinner in a loving non-prideful way, but it can and must be done.
While having these conversations, we must ask ourselves: Do I want to be right on this topic, or is my concern truly about their well being? Anyone who has witnessed these arguments can see it quickly becomes about being right (i.e., self-righteous) as opposed to willing the good of the other (i.e., love). Most of the time, it is all prideful.
“It was pride that changed angels into devils . . . “ St. Augustine