Thursday, June 09, 2011

How It Starts

I didn't hear what he said. In fact, I didn't hear them at all. She went off like a siren. There was quiet, suddenly there was noise. I turned in my chair to see what was happening. Like everyone else, I cannot but help look at car crashes. I'd been sitting in a grocery store having a cup of tea at a table while Joe went through to pay for what we'd bought. I looked over and saw him, too, turned and watching.

What we all saw was a mother bent over with her finger in her young son's face. She was talking rapidly and loudly. He was staring at her, transfixed by her anger, his face was flushed. His eyes were glistening, like he was about to cry and only an act of will stopped the first tear from falling. There was no question that this woman was angry, there was equally no question that he was in awe of her fury. In fact, she, a small woman, did seem to grow ten times in height. She clearly didn't care if all of us heard, that was not an issue to her. The issue was that he, her son, would hear her.

"Don't you ever speak of someone like that to me again!!" she firmly told him. She was not screaming, she was 'listen to me young man'ing him. 'How can you use words like that? You used to come home crying because kids called you names. Vile racist names. You know what words do. Don't you remember what happened to your grandfather? Don't you? It always starts with words. IT ALWAYS STARTS WITH WORDS. When I was growing up, people made fun of the shape of my eyes. People called us horrible names, the same horrible names they called you. You know better. Because it happened to you, you know better. You have no excuse for using language like that. This boy, the one you called a 'retard' what is his name?'

The boy didn't answer.

'I asked you what is his name?'

The boy mumbled a name.

'Is he disabled?'

The boy mutely nodded.

'That's worse. That's even worse. You brought shame down on him. Shame because he's different. You will go to school tomorrow and apologize to him, and to everyone who heard you. His name is Kevin!! If you have to call him a name, it will be Kevin.'

She stood up, having been bent over to get into her sons face. It was like suddenly she noticed all around her. She wiped a tear from her eye and said defiantly, 'It always starts with names.'

Then she, and he, trotting shamefaced behind her, turned and went down an aisle. The store took a breath, and the world continued.

27 comments:

theknapper said...

and hopefully he gets it.....bravo for a mom who is passionate about how we treat each other....the good part about shame is this kid understands he's hurt someone and he gets an opportunity to repair what he's hurt.
ps googled you and found out you're in Parksville on Monday, hoping to drive up to attend your wksp.

J. said...

Wow!

wendy said...

Powerful. I'm speechless (and you know how rare that is!)

Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

Good for this Mom. Her son knows that what he has done is totally not acceptable. And he knows what he has to do to make amends to Kevin.

Hope your time in BC is rewarding.

Colleen

Nathan Dawthorne said...

Yay for mom!

Belinda said...

I just wish she had done it in private. How humiliating to be dressed down in front of an audience no matter how wrong he was.

Kris S. said...

WOW.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Belinda, I'm not sure I agree with you. Sometimes something important needs to be dealt with immediately. Once, when I was with my Grandmother who loved me dearly, I stole a dinky toy from the drug store. She shook her head sadly (that was enough for me) but she made me take it back, give it to the pharmacist and tell him that I stole it. He dressed me down, made sure I knew that it wasn't stealing from him but from his family. It made such an impression on me. Others saw it, and that was part of how huge this was for me. Do I tremble inside when I think of it? Yes. Did it cause emotional scaring? No. Did it leave a mark on me? No. But it did change my behaviour. I have never stolen since, I even tell people when they've given me too much change. Thanks Grandma. If she had waited till they were elsewhere, it would have lost it's immediacy. I'd be curious to read others thoughts on both this and on the blog itself.

coffeetalk said...

I know what you mean, Belinda, but I wonder if the boy called the other boy that name in public. How humiliating for the boy with the disability to be called that terrible name in front of other people. I am not a fan of public discipline of our children, but sometimes do unto others is the way to go.

Belinda said...

I so understand that the mother was very angry, and "boiled over" with the passionate emotion of the moment. A justifiable and right passion.

I don't know why, but public humiliation has always been an emotional issue for me. It was the one thing I told my husband I could not bear him doing--and he hasn't. If ever he had an issue with something I did, I asked him to tell me in private. He has always honoured that.

Belinda said...

I so understand that the mother was very angry, and "boiled over" with the passionate emotion of the moment. A justifiable and right passion.

Maybe I was shamed as I child--I can't remember--but public humiliation has always been an emotional issue for me. It was the one thing I told my husband I could not bear him doing--and he hasn't. If ever he had an issue with something I did, I asked him to tell me in private. He has always honoured that.

If I felt that way for me, I feel that way for everyone, especially a child who has so little power before a furious adult. I think she would teach him more about respect by being respectful in the way she teaches him.

Myrrien said...

I understand what Belinda is saying, on the, thankfully, only time I have had this with my own son I waited until the etnic minority family had left and then told him what I thought of his behaviour, I did not wish to embarrass them any further but I have often wondered if by my silence at that point if I looked as though I was agreeing with his behaviour. I do wish social interaction was in an instruction book.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Belinda, I think we agree more than we disagree. Joe and I have the same rule, we never fight in public. Not that we fight much, but our disagreements are private affairs. I don't think that what happened here was 'public humiliation' though. She never called him a name, never verbally abused him, never did anything but correct him, loudly. Remember, she said that she had been publically shamed, that he had been publically shamed, that something had big happened to their family. This was a huge issue for her and she made it big for him. I suspect she'd have done the same thing if he'd used any word that demeaned another. And, by the by, I've seen kids more harshly spoken to, called derogatory names, in restaurants and shopping malls, than how she spoke to him. It probably seems, too, from the telling, that this went on for a long time, it was brief, intense and over.

Robin said...

That was amazing. She should be doing PSA's. Brought a tear to my eye... thank you for sharing.

purplefrog26 said...

IMHO I think she did well to address it immediately and if bystanders get something to think about more's the better. This is an issue that is important for everyone to be passionate about. How often does the name calling happen in public?

liz said...

Awesome.

coffeetalk said...

Please don't misunderstand, Belinda. I'm with you on the issue of public humiliation 99.9% of the time. I think sometimes, though, unless one experiences it they cannot understand how devastating it can be. I do agree that this was also probably this mom's "trigger" due to her experiences. I'm hoping that much more conversation happened when cooler heads prevailed.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Again, folks, thanks for a serious and kindly discussion. To be able to talk and disagree without rancour is amazing!

Kristine said...

Thank you for sharing this. It inspires me in how I approach similar issues in my classroom.

Noisyworld said...

Wow, I was almost expecting the whole cafe to give her a round of applause :)
I wonder if there were other people there who learnt a valuable lesson that day- to think hard about how words scar, and how horrible the r word is.
Bravo that mum, shame it wasn't recorded, that would have make one heck of an anti-discrimination ad :)

Belinda said...

I recognize that my response to the boy and his mother's correction was emotional and out of proportion to what actually happened. Rereading the post, it was a private conversation between the mother and her boy that was intense and overheard. She wasn't berating him loudly, but I felt it as more than it was, and now I have to figure out why! :)It was good to talk it out here. Okay--I'm coming back for therapy! :)

Lori said...

Very powerful exchange, kudos to that Mom! I bet he never makes another derogatory statement in his life.

I think you have the name of your next book -- "It Always Starts With Names".

Jan said...

The mom was awesome. She did something that many of us want to do. When she dealt with her son she talked about his behaviour that was wrong but not that he was bad. I have heard Mom's make comments about the person and not the behaviour in public and felt very uncomfortable but this mom did an awesome job of dealing with the incident without demeaning the person. Cudos to her and I agree this would make a good anti- discrimination ad,

Noisyworld said...

Ooh, Lori, I like that as a book title :)

Louise said...

Dave, my sister Lyn the mother of Robert a boy with downes syndrome read this blog to me and we both wept- with your permission I will use it as a starting point for discussing our reactions to difference in my work with secondary school students in Dublin- thanks - it will become a seed in the future.

Louise- the mother of the two boys who won your soccer sweets in the raffle- the boxes are their special boxes for storing their little things!

Molly said...

I really love this post. Really love it.

Devin Lenda said...

"That's worse. That's even worse. You brought shame down on him. Shame because he's different."

So you teach kids not to humiliate other kids by humiliating them? Research and common sense suggest the opposite. If you're nice to kids, they'll be nice to other kids. If you're generous, they'll be generous. If you hit them, they'll hit others. If you humiliate them, they'll humiliate others, which is why the boy was acting that way in the first place (this likely wasn't the first time he was humiliated).