Thursday, March 05, 2009

Here's The Way It Went

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.


tekeal said...

it's all a matter of definition, and you gave him the power to still take action with your definition of revenge. i think it's unfortunately true what you said about the world not being fair and most likey having a (deserved) punch come back at you... i'm curious what other people will comment.

Anonymous said...

Revenge is a dish that is best served cold.

Yes, I think that you are right but the bat option is still my gut instinct (although wrong).

My son put up with bullying at school for many years before he lost his temper one day under extreme provocation. The school excluded him without discussion and took no action against his tormentors other than telling them not to do it again. I told him that although I could not condone his actions that I understood his reasons and after that for the most part they left him alone. Not ideal but a learning curve for both parties I think.

I'm very proud of the man he has become.


Anonymous said...

I think that was an excellent answer, and am certain I'll have the opportunity to share it with someone (someones, more likely) who struggles with similarly difficult situations. Spot on as usual, Dave!

Belinda said...

Or he could always call Tiger Girl. I'll leave you my number...

Nah, I'll be out of the country for a while, you gave him the best advice.

Tamara said...


My Opposite Boys said...

I hope you don't get e-mails about this, I think that was perfect!

I know a young man with Down syndrome that hit back and the school urged the other boys family to sue. A very well off local man got wind of it through the newspapers and gave the family the means to fight it in court and any other legal matters for this young man that will arise.

Jenn McWhorter said...

Dave, I am not only disabled, I have six kids with special needs of varying sorts. The three youngest boys are still at home and still in school. They live with ADHD and Asperger's Syndrome. And they get teased and they get bullied. And they ask me when they should hit somebody for crossing lines and I just don't know what to say.

Now I know what to say. You have taught me. Again

FridaWrites said...

I think you were right. Justice can be slow and take patience, but it happens. I've seen people dig their own grave without me ever having to do a thing. At other times I've had to seek allies/official channels.

Anonymous said...

I think you were correct. He knows there's prejudice. He's able to understand what that implies. As a little girl I know knows that almost no adult can see that trivial provocations cease to be trivial when repeated twenty times in an hour.

Some people make this a moral point, as though hitting back once is somehow a disproportionate response to years of - perhaps - non-physical viciousness.

Others often do advocate hitting back at a certain point, because it *can work. (That seems to be more an American meme than a European one.) But they forget that the worm has to turn *successfully, or it all gets worse for him.

& especially they forget that most people who are bullied are bullied because they've been identified as not having the resources or back-up to turn successfully.

For someone who is 'different' in a structurally recognised way, that goes double.

As for your speech about how revenge is to be taken - I'm going to write it out for my young friend. Then she'll know what the trite, indequate advice about walking away actually means. The best revenge is living well, they say, and what better than self-control and learning to use the tools available?

Catherine said...

Dave, what a heart breaker of a question. It's an eternal question, as old as mankind, I believe, and still no good answer to it.

Our kids are "normal". Yet there is bullying. How to tell them to respond, especially when the media, tv shows, books all show how that big whomp shuts down the bully when in real life, it just does not work that way? You are are right; it is wrong to tell them to hit back, strike back, as that is most likely to ricochet and hurt the first kid more.

How I wish there were something that could really soothe the hurt of kids being bullied!

Anonymous said...

You were right, Dave. It isn't fair, but it is what it is. I hope that young man will take your advice but I know it can be hard when you feel all alone and people are hurting you. It would be nice to think that someone with some authority would take an interest in this. But, I think you gave him the best advice you could.

Anonymous said...

And so true for everyone Dave, as someone who has been bullied, as a child and now in the work place I appreciate it and know others who will as well.

Glee said...

I was getting quite cross and a bit eaten up with the fact that my ex-husband had stuffed around and not done a lot of renovating in the garden and house that he was once keen to do. When we broke up I was left with it all with a much diminished physical capability than I had years ago. I had trouble pushing away my frustration with this and it often came into my mind. I couldn't change it tho and there was no point in going around and yelling at him about it. I wanted to make him pay for neglecting our place but there was no way I could.

A friend said to me "The best revenge is success". AHA!

SO. Instead of wallowing in anger I set about getting the jobs and renovating done myself. And I am succeeding. The hallway is finally painted, the kitchen is painted a new beautiful colour, the weeds are kept down, I am planting new things and fixing things and changing things in the garden and the list goes on.

One day when he visited I could see his irritation that I had done all this stuff. He is still mucking around and not getting far.

SO. Not only is he suffering a little to see my success, my place is looking great, AND bonus, I feel great cos things are looking good and I don't wallow in resentment any more!!

There you go. It works.


Anonymous said...

"But I have the conversations I have, think the thoughts that I do, and oddly, I bare them all to you."

And that's why people talk to you, and read you, and listen/hear what you say.....because you are real, and honest, and tell it like you see it.


: ) E

rickismom said...


Anonymous said...

I wish I had met you when I was younger and was the subject of severe bullying. I was far from disabled then, just different for my hair color.

If I had known what I know now, I likely still would've been just as mean. Thank you for being able to elucidate so that many more people can benefit from your well worded advice.