Saturday, July 17, 2010

Recently, while catching up with an old friend, I was told a story about my friend’s then-tweenaged daughter and bullying -- how the bullying at her daughter’s elementary got so bad that teachers and principals had the students concerned dispersed to other schools. When a letter came recommending that her daughter be transferred, she asked her, Do you know about this? and the girl said yes. Pressed on the matter, she said she did not want to talk about it and retreated angrily to her room.

That evening, while preparing supper, my friend conveyed the news to her husband, and he, like her, expressed his shock and disappointment. I don’t understand, he said, everything we stand for, everything we have taught her, is opposed to that. She agreed, and together they decided it was time for a meeting.

Once the dishes were done the three of them reconvened to the living room, where she and her husband took turns lecturing their daughter, pausing on occasion so that she could collect herself, for she was crying too. When finished they asked her if she had anything to say. The daughter nodded. Then, after a pause of her own, she told them that she was not a bully, but one of the bullied. She said she was dealing with it as best she could and was looking forward to a fresh start. Embarrassed and relieved, the parents apologized and allowed their daughter the last word. Never again was it spoken of.

Last year my friend received a group email from the father of a girl her daughter had gone to school with. The contents of the letter concerned another schoolmate, who was dying of cancer, and maybe those who knew her might send her a note – a memory, a recollection, something to cheer her up. Because her daughter was overseas, and it was late there, she forwarded the email with the words “Ring me” above it. Four days passed and still she had not heard from her daughter. Fuelled by anger, she picked up the phone and called.

Did you get the email, about the memory? Yes, said her daughter. Did you send something? No, she replied. Are you going to? A long pause. Then another no.

Again she lectured her daughter, only this time, because they were both adults, the words were sharper, more direct. Didn’t you learn anything from being bullied? Where is your heart, your compassion? This is not how your father and I raised you. When she was done, she asked her daughter to explain herself. As before, there was a pause. Then, between sobs, she told her: But mom, you don’t understand. Of all the bullies, this girl was the worst.

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