The other night I was watching the latest episode from this season and it featured my favorite character, Louie's daughter Jane. In this episode, they are walking to the doctor's office and she is explaining to him that she has no friends. Louie asks her about a girl he thought was her friend and she replies they aren't friends anymore. In fact, the girl started a petition at school asking, "Who hates Jane?" The whole class signed it.
I will help you destroy them, young one.
Kids can be so cruel. It's a cliche for a reason. The thing is, they're cruel in such devious ways that it's almost impressive. Who would think to write a petition like that? And actually have people sign it? That's cold on a massive level.
That's Louie. Although it is often completely absurd and surreal (the rest of this episode featured a horrifying monster stalking Louie's dreams) it is brutally honest about real life issues.
In this case, it was honest about kids' ability to be complete assholes. Which brings me to...me.
From Kindergarten through 8th grade, I attended E.B. Kennelly School in Hartford. In 5th grade, my teacher was Miss Calhoun, a tall, young, blonde hippy. At one point she made all of the students create our own lunch trays out of cardboard to protest the CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons--I'll give her this much, I never forgot that) in the styrofoam of the cafeteria trays. One day we simulated a biosphere, as seen in the Pauly Shore/Stephen Baldwin classic Bio-Dome. We were unable to leave the room for the entire day. We had to eat at our desks and we were allowed to go to the bathroom only once throughout the day.
One day she told us that we would have an exchange student from Israel in our class for a couple weeks. It was cool because we learned a little bit about Israel and the Middle East (the Gulf War occurred that year, too) to have some background knowledge of this new student in an effort to make his experience more comfortable.
His name was Ariel Bailey. He was quiet but friendly. I always liked him, but some of the girls in the class started to feel a certain way about his presence in our class. They felt Miss Calhoun was giving him too much attention. We were her real students and he was only temporary. Why should he get all this extra help just because he spoke a different language and was in a new country and his home country was in a perpetual war?
Sure enough, the girls wrote a petition saying Miss Calhoun spent too much time with him and asked everyone to sign it. I remember about 4 girls coming to my desk and telling me to sign it. When I asked why, they thought it was obvious. I didn't really understand it, but they were persistent and I wasn't, so I gave in. I didn't think much of it, it was just a way to keep them happy and away from me.
Well, Miss Calhoun was definitely not happy when she received the petition. There was a parent teacher conference soon after and she told my mom how devastated she was that my name was on such a hateful list.
My mom was pissed of course, but even worse, she was disappointed. My mom's method of expressing her disappointment always had the effect of making the recipient of her disappointment question their very purpose on this planet. After making sure I knew how disgusted she was, she told me I was going to apologize to Ariel.
I did, and I felt horrible. He wanted to know why I signed it and I gave him some half-assed excuse I can't even remember and I'm sure he didn't believe, but he forgave me. The truth is, I was just an average kid, and kids can be assholes, knowingly or unknowingly. They just don't fully think through their actions because they are mentally incapable of doing so yet. Children don't understand the impact of their cruelty and often don't even think of their actions as cruelty, just honesty. The problem is, honesty from their point of view is often skewed because they don't understand shit about life yet.
As an adult looking back at it, I'm upset with myself for not being strong enough to stand up to what I knew deep down was wrong; however, I'm happy my mom made me apologize and I'm proud that I went through with it. It was a little late, but it took courage. A little bit anyway. A very little bit. Whatever, it set the wheels of courage in motion.
I have often thought about this incident and I use it as motivation to stand up for myself and others. As a kid we don't know any better, but as an adult, there's no excuse for not standing up for yourself or standing idly by while others are picked on. It's not always easy. It takes mindfulness, confidence, and a willingness to withstand ridicule. For myself, I've realized that I hate regretting my own actions, or lack thereof, much more than I hate insults from bullies or people I disagree with. In fact, it feels good to stand up for yourself, and even more so to stand up for others. Give it a try!
Also, watch Louie.
I Love You All...Class Dismissed.