Throughout most of my years at our large public high school, my friends and I floated comfortably in the middle echelon of the popularity spectrum. Due to my middle-school years at private school, I was largely unknown. I didn’t usually draw attention, positive or negative, and that was OK with me. So I was caught off-guard one day in sophomore year English class when I felt something pressing into my back. It was the edge of the empty desk behind me. Two girls sat at the back of the room, kicking the desk forward into my back, snickering.
As you can guess, it felt lousy. One of the girls, Chris, was in my homeroom. She was popular mostly because she had popular friends, and she kept her rank with sharp, cutting wit. She spent a lot of time in homeroom making jokes about people who weren’t sitting in her corner – including my friends and me. And now, here we were in English; they were bored, and I was an easy target.
Chris and I both ended up in the same Art History class senior year. I shared one of the heavy two-person tables with my friend and locker partner. Chris sat ahead of us with her friend, who dropped the class a couple weeks in. One day, we decided it was time for paybacks. We slowly pushed our table forward. Chris scooted forward a bit. We leaned on the table more, gradually inching it up until it was pressed against her chair, wedging her between her table and ours. Chris got frustrated, turned around with an angry sigh and shoved our table back at us. We were engrossed in the art history slides for a few minutes, and then gradually started pushing it forward again.
At the end of the class, she rushed out. We felt victorious. We rode that high for a good part of the day, but as the high wore off, it felt tainted. Our happiness stemmed from her unhappiness. Of course, I rationalized that she may have learned how hard it is to be on the receiving end of taunting, but her actions clearly stemmed from insecurity. Disrespect and cruelty from us certainly didn’t make her more secure. I don’t think she became a better person that day, but for part of the day, I became a worse person. A vengeful person. Someone who took pleasure in the discomfort of others.
Now, as a parent, I want to make sure I remember all of those feelings. As they grow, I hope to teach my kids that being powerful is not the same as being honorable, that no one grows by stooping, that one person’s revenge is not another’s redemption. On the other hand, being kind doesn’t always win people over either. Neither arming my kids with witty retorts or boxing lessons will make people respect them, and no matter how much they want to be liked, not everyone will. They have choices anyway – a million little chances each day to love louder than the haters hate. To choose to act in ways that make souls stronger, and in doing so, grow stronger themselves.
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. – Romans 12:21