Monday, September 29, 2008
Too Angry to Learn
As a child, things or people that were different always fascinated me, there were so many things to learn. Apparently the rest of the world didn't think that way.
I recall a conversation with a friend in grade 5. She was of East Indian descent and told me one day that some kids picked on her because of her skin colour. I honestly couldn't understand that. I mean, I couldn't wrap my head around the concept of someone not liking you or making fun of you because of your skin colour. I kept asking her Why?, but she didn't know either. I don't know if I ever thought to ask my parents why or even a teacher for that matter. I took what my friend told me to be true, that some people thought she should be teased because of something over which she had no control, but I remember thinking that it wasn't right to think that way. It didn't make sense.
In grades 8 and 9 I was teased and bullied every single school day and sometimes on non school days. I was small for my age, a late bloomer, smart and keen on school. (I was honestly mistaken for a boy at the age of 14 - which was when my folks let me get my ears pierced, in the days before it was vogue for boys to get theirs done.)
The summer before though, I was outside riding my bike in the neighbourhood. One of the kids who lived close by came out of his house. His name was Butch (I kid you not), he was chubby, and he was mean. He asked me what I was doing (I thought it obvious) and when I told him I was just riding around he asked me to wait on the street, he'd be back in a minute. He came back a few seconds later with a bucket full of water. "I want to pour this on you," he told me. "Sure," I said, thinking he was an idiot. "It is kind of hot and the water will probably feel good." He got ready to throw the water at me, when I said "Wait! Let me take off my shoes and socks." And he did. He wound up again. Again, I asked him to wait so I could remove my hat. He did. I stood in the middle of the road away from my shoes, socks, hat, and bike. Butch hefted the bucket of water and as he threw it, I sidestepped it. The water went flying harmlessly past me onto the road and I laughed hysterically as Butch stomped off, muttering under his breath. I spent the rest of the afternoon riding my bike around the neighbourhood, probably examining rocks and bugs, and wondering why Butch thought I would stand there and let him throw a bucket of water on me. He truly was an idiot but to this day I don't know the reason for his behaviour. (It wasn't until years later I mentioned the incident to my mom. She knew all about it as one of the neighbours had watched and heard the whole thing. She had laughed as well and then phoned my mom to tell her about it.) I had to deal with idiots like this almost every day for two years, girls and boys.
In grade 10, a girl who had picked on me for two years approached me at my locker and asked to speak with me. I was wary but said yes. She then told me she wanted to apologize for anything she had ever said or done that was mean to me. She said she was an alcoholic and as part of her recovery program she had to atone for wrongdoings. She gave me a small pewter pin and asked me to accept it and would I also accept her apology? I was dumbfounded. I accepted of course, hugged her, and we became friends. 30 years later and I still have the pin. We lost touch after I went off to university and she moved away a few years later, but I think of her often. I came to learn about her life at home and the physical abuse she and her sister had to endure and it's no wonder she became an alcoholic and a bully.
When I was 19 I ran into one guy who used to tease me and he apologized for all the teasing and name calling. I knew a little bit of his background by then (very abusive home life) and had come to understand his reasons for it, not that it was OK, but his behaviour made sense then.
I also ran into another bully a few years ago, a person with whom never a pleasant word was exchanged. He approached me at an event I was attending and introduced himself, asking if I remembered him. I'm sad to say I told him I remembered the hell he put me through. I should have said "No, your name doesn't ring any bells," but at that moment I was seeing red. He said he recalled great conversations we had and my wit and humour (!!??!!) and I said they never happened. This was the guy who accepted a bet that I would dance with him if he asked me. I didn't accept his invitation to dance as he was a bully and I actually left the dance in tears, knowing that something was up. After running into this guy as an adult I had a conversation with a school mate about him and asked her if I was losing my mind? Was it possible I had pleasant interactions with this man that I didn't recall? She backed me up completely. I was sane and correct in my recall of events.
When I was 14 I saw the movie Star Wars. I didn't think it was all that great at the time, but for some reason I was really taken with Darth Vader. I wouldn't admit that to anyone as he was the bad guy, but for years I seemed to be more interested in him than any other character. I didn't see the next two Star Wars movies until the 90s. I watched the first 3 movies and then the prequels. Ahhhh. Some things started to make sense about Darth Vader. His evil behaviour could be partly explained by his experiences as a young man. Interesting.
Darth Vader experienced a number of losses, from body parts that limited his mobility to a wife he was madly in love with. He lived during a time of unrest in the universe and he was always on the edge of good and evil, with evil finally taking hold. Darth Vader's limit was reached.
Like the bullies I went to school with, and Darth Vader, we all have our limits. Sometimes it's something lacking in our life, like a parent, guidance, a good role model. Sometimes it's too much of something - too much lenience by parents, physical abuse, ot too much chaos in our world. Sometimes things are taken from us. We lash out in anger at those lives we do have some influence on because of our inability to control our own lives. Are bullies truly happy with the people they have become? I don't think so. They are unable to learn anything from the curveballs that life throws at them. How can anyone be happy if they can't learn?
Yes, sometimes a period of anger is appropriate. When you start to take out your anger on other people (or the dog) or you begin beating up on yourself, it's time to stop being angry and do something about it. You might learn something.