Impulsivity + Meanness=Regret.
I am still trying to find forgiveness for something I did when I was about seven or eight years old. When I was on the playground, one cold, crisp Texan school yard afternoon, the bell rang, and we went to line up. One of my classmates, a sweet, shy boy, while running to line up, was tripped by me. I impulsively stuck out my leg, and down he went. The look on his face when he was getting up was so sad – the meanness was so unexpected, so abrupt, that I knew, I knewI had done something near unforgivable. I will never forget the look on his face. (I know I helped him up, said sorry, but the damage was done.) I am the one who provided that kid with the experience of people are jerks, and sometimes do cruel things for no reason. Yea, me.
Since I can’t find the little boy (who’s obviously not little anymore) that I tripped in first grade, since the vast detective work of Google, Bing, or others will not find this one soul out of billions, and, I don’t remember names, exact dates or locations, I may never be able to find him and say, “I am sorry. I acted rashly, impulsively, but it may have hurt your feelings, and you still may remember it, and it hurt you for a long time.”
Sharing this anecdote with students, one girl commented (several times), “that’s mean, Mrs. L,” until I finally had to say, “Yes, I know…it was mean, and I regret it, feel guilty and remorseful every time I think of it. Now let’s move on.” I would like to think that one act of impulsive, yet intentional bullying was out of character for me. That perhaps I was just ‘trying it on,’ and answering an inner curiosity about what is it like to do something wrong…totally, and absolutely outright wrong. But that sounds like a lot of mental justification.
Trolling for interesting podcasts the other day, I came upon a This American Life episode called “Mind Games” that made me think about how people treat each other, and how if it’s based on lies, it usually doesn’t work out. At all.
This led me to listen to another episode from May, 2002, titled ‘Devil on My Shoulder.’ The premise or theme is that we humans are in constant struggle to choose right versus wrong, moral versus immoral behaviors, and we have so many outside influences pushing us, tempting us, this way and that, that sometimes we are compelled to blame it on a ‘devil on our shoulder,’ feeding us tiny lies and whispering small, but powerfully motivating ways to act unkindly. While my personal philosophy doesn’t include a personification of immoral judgements sitting on my left shoulder, I do believe in a dash of free will along with decision making, cognitive abilities thrown in with a cup of destiny, frosted with fate. Meaning, whether or not you believe in devils and angels, deities and do-gooders, we humans are still faced with the burning question, “what does it mean to do the right thing, and why do we sometimes NOT?”
When I think about what I did, my heart hurts. That’s guilt. I might be a bit mired (stuck) in this one event, true. I am not sure why I’ve had difficulty finding atonement. If one of my children did something like this, I would tell them to learn from it, not to behave in a mean way again, and move on. So, I guess in that way, perhaps if I took my own advice, I can say I did learn from it. I never tripped anyone else again, and certainly never intentionally hurt anyone again. I just hope that somewhere out there, that boy knows I am sorry.
“Safety and happiness can only come from individuals, classes, and nations being honest and fair and kind to each other.”-CS Lewis
6 thoughts on “Hey, you, get off of my cloud.”
So I was thinking:
What if you hadn’t tripped that boy?
What if you had walked back into the school without incident thinking:
“I sure am a great girl for not tripping that boy…” I mean… I guess I don’t buy that.
I guess I like to believe in a world where people try on behaviors like outfits. And when you tried on the mean girl outfit you were mortified.
If we’re sticking with your schoolyard analogy- “I sure wish I hadn’t tripped that boy” (and thinking so after decades have passed) says a lot more to me about a person’s character than never tripping them at all.
There’s something infinitely more human and beautiful found at the tense spot where we make choices, take action, and learn about who we want to be… for good and for bad.
I liked this story. Without boys to trip in the schoolyard to make his feel like poop inside, what would be our cross reference when we’re deciding who we DO want to be?
Just a thought that makes more sense in my head than in your comment bar. 🙂
I totally agree!
We all do things that we look back and regret. The fact that we remember them and wish things had gone differently makes us caring people. Kids just react sometimes. Sharing your story with your students helps them understand that all of us make mistakes. You are helping them to learn about feelings and compassion and maybe even to be able to reflect just a bit and say “I’m sorry.” Just think about all of the adults who still have trouble with that one.
The article was very well worded. I enjoyed it alot.
Reading it I think will help me wirte my Essay.
This was mean, but i think it is very thoughtful of you to say sorry. There are many things people do that they regret. I would feel the same way.
I think that was horrible, but you learned from your mistake, which is always a good thing. He may still remember it, but i think if he knew how you felt about it, he would forgive you. It was a long time ago and you truly regreted it. Think of it as a possitive, someone had to teach him that there are jerks in the world, so you taught him a lesson. It may not have been a lesson you wanted to teach him but you it was valuble and something that he was gonna find out either way.
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