Tales of Childhood Mistakes

Lions Eating in Savannah

Yesterday when I read about respect in Ed Gerety’s book Combinations I immediately thought of 5th grade. I even wrote out the story a few times and debated posting it. I debated posting it because I am not proud of what I did as a 5th grader. As you will read below those days affected me deeply. Today I read about kindness and realized that the combination of kindness was also appropriate to the story. In fact, had I the courage to be kinder then maybe things would have been nicer for all involved.

Had we but shown some kindness.

There are many ways that you can disrespect yourself because you disrespected someone else. Ed tells a tale of something hurtful he did in 4th grade. For me, it was 5th grade. I went to a small tight knit catholic school where the students had been together since kindergarten. But in 5th grade two new students joined our class. Right away these kids had strikes against them. They were new and they were different sorts of kids, in our eyes at least.

The boy was odd and he said some of the strangest things. He just didn’t quite fit in, in our eyes. If you asked me why he stood out or was different, I wouldn’t be able to tell you today. We picked on him a lot. I picked on him too because I finally had someone to pick on and I wasn’t being picked on when he was. Was this right, of course not. Could I have befriended this kid, probably. Should I have done that instead of been mean, absolutely. Was I afraid of being picked on more, yes.

The other student was a girl and she really didn’t do anything except be herself. Unfortunately for her she looked funny. And kids are cruel. If you have a big nose you get the nickname honker or something like that. Kids can find you biggest foibles and rip you apart based on them. She had a long neck, giant glasses and a smallish head. She would occasionally let out a whooping crane like cough that she couldn’t control. Each of those differences just served to fuel the fire of childhood bullying.

Because we didn’t get to know these kids who were different they were singled out and picked on. Because we saw them as different they were not treated with respect or kindness. Because I didn’t have the respect in myself I didn’t stand up for them but went along with the teasing.

Consequences of unkindness

One day we came to school to find that they were both gone, they both left school. Jokes were made that they left together and got married because their were both so weird. We were cruel, kids can be that way. I’ll never forget what my 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Burke did that day. She let us have it! For all our self satisfaction at emotionally torturing two kids to the point where they left school wasn’t something to joke about, it was something to be ashamed of.

Those two kids will always remember that terrible part of their lives and it was because of us and our actions. We had the choice to be welcoming and kind and respectful but we chose to be mean and prejudiced because these kids were different, in our eyes. We made the choice to be mean and so we should be ashamed of our actions. These kids did nothing to deserve the torment and we all had a role in it. Of all my teachers from grade school I will never forget Mrs. Burke for teaching us an important lesson about respect and kindness. I carried that with me for many years.

So when I was faced with decisions later in life as to whether to tease someone or not I remembered what we did in 5th grade. More than once or twice I’ve wanted to go back and shake my 5th grade self and tell him that he was stronger than that and could have done something to be more kind. To let my 5th grade self know that I was a leader and I’d better start showing it.

You have a choice every day to make a difference with your actions.

It is no secret that life in America and worldwide is getting tougher and tougher. Massive layoffs, scams, murders, the list goes on. Each day I read about something more horrific than the next. People are becoming so depressed and desperate that the littlest thing sets off catastrophic events. Can we turn this around with kindness? I think so.

An unkind word can stay with you and infect you like a cancer. It fouls your mood and in turn that foul mood feeds those around you. It begins to fuel foulness around you. But, the same can be said for a kind word or gesture. You have the power in every word you speak and action you perform to either energize someone with your kindness or make them sink deeper into a foul mood. A put-down is just that you are actually putting someone down below you and deeper into a dark place. Stop the put-downs and pick people up instead. It can be as simple as saying hello to the front desk clerk as you walk by, but this time actually turn, look at the person and smile. Let the smile reach your eyes. Really mean the hello, the good morning.

How can we be more kind as bloggers?

Stop the negativity, don’t buy into or propagate the gossip. Just be above it all and end the cycle.

Call to Action

Take a moment to visit 3-5 random blogs this week. Take a look around the place and perform an act of kindness. Give the owner a genuine compliment on the work that they do on their blog. Actually read their posts and add a relevant comment on how well the post was written. Search the archives tweet, stumble, share one of their old posts that you really like. Spend some time on those blogs and find out what that blogger is about. Blog about that blogger for no other reason than to be kind. If you want to tell them fine, if not fine. Just do something kind for another blogger for no other reason than it makes their day better.

Who knows, you might make a friend, you might inspire that person to spread the kindness to other bloggers. Your actions might just be the pick me up that that person needed that day.

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6 thoughts on “Tales of Childhood Mistakes”

  1. My daughter is actually going through that right now. It is pretty horrible. I think we nipped it in the bud but kids at that age, especially girls, can be so mean. As a parent you have to let it run it’s course and then know when to step in.

    I think all kids at that age have been on both sides of the equation but it is so much worse when you have to see your kid going through it.

  2. MaryBeth,
    I am sorry to hear that your daughter is going through this. We were mean back then but that was nothing compared to what we see today, especially with technology too, photos on cameraphones, facebook, myspace, it just all adds to the ways in which kids can be cruel to each other. I am dreading the day when someone makes Eva feel bad or picks on her. I don’t know what I’ll do then. That is certainly one of the things I know I’m gonna lose sleep over.

  3. Even though I was picked on terribly when I was young I did the same thing when I had a chance. I’m not proud of it at all. I do my part by teaching my daughters (well the younger one now) that teasing and saying things that are mean have no place ever.

    You are so positive now and such a kind person. You have definitely learned your lesson. I know that you will be a great role model for your daughter.

    I’ll take your suggestion and post about it on my blog too. Thanks for some good advice.

    Connies last blog post..Healthy Eating With PhytoLife

  4. Connie,
    I know that everyone goes through this at one time or another. It is unfortunately a right of passage but doesn’t have to be. At least I hope it doesn’t have to be. I know it is really going to kill me to see Eva go through this and I hope at least that Allison and I instill in her enough confidence in herself that she doesn’t have to resort to being mean and petty. It is really hard however sometimes to say something positive where a mean quip would also suffice.

    As for learning my lesson, I’m learning it every day. Some days I don’t show up for class though. I don’t like those days.

  5. Heather,
    Show up for class? I don’t get it. Teasing is a vicious cycle for sure. And many of us have been on both sides. If we have been teased we are either more sensitive to it and may tease others as a preemptive strike or try and stop it all together. We’re trying to be the best parents possible. We’ll make mistakes for sure. But we will try.

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