Impulsivity + Meanness=Regret.
I am still trying to find forgiveness for something I did when I was about seven or eight years old. When I was on the playground, one cold, crisp Texan school yard afternoon, the bell rang, and we went to line up. One of my classmates, a sweet, shy boy, while running to line up, was tripped by me. I impulsively stuck out my leg, and down he went. The look on his face when he was getting up was so sad – the meanness was so unexpected, so abrupt, that I knew, I knewI had done something near unforgivable. I will never forget the look on his face. (I know I helped him up, said sorry, but the damage was done.) I am the one who provided that kid with the experience of people are jerks, and sometimes do cruel things for no reason. Yea, me.
Since I can’t find the little boy (who’s obviously not little anymore) that I tripped in first grade, since the vast detective work of Google, Bing, or others will not find this one soul out of billions, and, I don’t remember names, exact dates or locations, I may never be able to find him and say, “I am sorry. I acted rashly, impulsively, but it may have hurt your feelings, and you still may remember it, and it hurt you for a long time.”
Sharing this anecdote with students, one girl commented (several times), “that’s mean, Mrs. L,” until I finally had to say, “Yes, I know…it was mean, and I regret it, feel guilty and remorseful every time I think of it. Now let’s move on.” I would like to think that one act of impulsive, yet intentional bullying was out of character for me. That perhaps I was just ‘trying it on,’ and answering an inner curiosity about what is it like to do something wrong…totally, and absolutely outright wrong. But that sounds like a lot of mental justification.
Trolling for interesting podcasts the other day, I came upon a This American Life episode called “Mind Games” that made me think about how people treat each other, and how if it’s based on lies, it usually doesn’t work out. At all.
This led me to listen to another episode from May, 2002, titled ‘Devil on My Shoulder.’ The premise or theme is that we humans are in constant struggle to choose right versus wrong, moral versus immoral behaviors, and we have so many outside influences pushing us, tempting us, this way and that, that sometimes we are compelled to blame it on a ‘devil on our shoulder,’ feeding us tiny lies and whispering small, but powerfully motivating ways to act unkindly. While my personal philosophy doesn’t include a personification of immoral judgements sitting on my left shoulder, I do believe in a dash of free will along with decision making, cognitive abilities thrown in with a cup of destiny, frosted with fate. Meaning, whether or not you believe in devils and angels, deities and do-gooders, we humans are still faced with the burning question, “what does it mean to do the right thing, and why do we sometimes NOT?”
When I think about what I did, my heart hurts. That’s guilt. I might be a bit mired (stuck) in this one event, true. I am not sure why I’ve had difficulty finding atonement. If one of my children did something like this, I would tell them to learn from it, not to behave in a mean way again, and move on. So, I guess in that way, perhaps if I took my own advice, I can say I did learn from it. I never tripped anyone else again, and certainly never intentionally hurt anyone again. I just hope that somewhere out there, that boy knows I am sorry.