He sat down beside me and looked at me seriously. We were on a break from the bullying and teasing day that I was doing for some older teens and young adults. He had eyes that had seen too much hurt, his bravado and huge sense of humour could not hide those eyes. I glanced over at him and knew that it had taken a lot of courage for him to come and sit with me. I was the teacher and he was the 'cool kid' after all.
But I simply waited. I've learned to wait. I don't understand why people who work with those with intellectual disabilities are always in such a rush. Wait. Shush. Calm. Let it be ... and it will.
"I have a question for you."
"When is it OK to punch someone. Like if you've told them to stop calling you names or to stop teasing you and if they keep on. Would that be when you hit them?"
I've never had this question. In all the years that I've taught people with disabilities about bullying and teasing, this has simply never come up. I needed time to think but didn't have it. So I bought time with a question:
"Is the person doing the teasing another kid at school?"
"Is he in your class or is he one of the other kids?"
"You mean is he like me or like the other kids?" He caught me.
"Yes, that's what I mean."
"He's not like me, he's smart." I wanted to tell him that smart kids don't tease but I wasn't there to quibble. He's asked a serious question.
I decided to tell him the truth. At least truth as I see it. I'm nervous writing this because I can just imagine the mail I'm going to get. But this is what happened and this is what I said:
"I'm going to tell you the truth. The world isn't fair. It is full of people who don't like people like you and me, people who are a bit different. In movies and television you see someone who is being bullied stand up to the bully, punch him in the nose and it's all over. But that's not how the world works. People won't simply take your side. Some people will think that you are violent and he is innocent. Some people will blame you. They will say that kids like you shouldn't be in school because you will attack the regular kids. It's not fair but it's what happens. If you hit someone, no matter how much they may deserve it, it will come back on you."
He nodded slowly, understanding.
"So you need to take revenge."
His eyes snapped to mine, like he couldn't believe what he was hearing. He was interested now.
"Revenge isn't hitting him. Revenge is being better than him. Walking taller than him. Smirking at him when he teases you. Reporting the teasing calmly to teachers. Calling the police and talking to them about him - calmly. Let them see him as out of control and you as fully in control. Get him back without touching him."
"It would feel good to hit him."
"It feels better to win."
He nodded at me and began to get up. He stopped and said, "Thanks, you're OK."
"So are you."
I have run and rerun this situation in my head. I've gone a thousand different ways. From telling him that violence is never a solution to telling him to smack the bastard in the head with a bat. I've imagined avoiding the talk. I've imagined telling him that teachers all care and that no one is prejudiced. I've imagined being smarter and knowing the perfect thing to say.
But I have the conversations I have, think the thoughts that I do, and oddly, I bare them all to you.