A chief is a man who assumes responsibility. He says “I was beaten,” he does not say “My men were beaten”. (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)
I saw the quote above and thought it was perfect, although it breaks the pattern of quoting the thoughts of J or myself. But there are many people more profound and poetic than we, so if the words fit the circumstances, the hell with tradition.
I have been thinking about the things that happen to us as kids and end up affecting the path of our lives because of someone else’s malice, carelessness, or fear. Whether it’s direct bullying, ignorance, or someone getting into trouble for actions not theirs, it can have unseen repercussions on the victim.
When I was in elementary school, a friend of mine convinced me that it would be funny to put some wadded up Kleenex in the teacher’s podium as we were filing out to leave for the day. The next day, when we were lining up for recess or lunch, she said it would be funny to do again, and I followed her lead. When we returned to the classroom, the teacher, who was known for being very laid back with a good sense of humor, was furious. He sat everyone down and started yelling at the class,
“Who put these dirty Kleenex in my podium? Someone did this last night and it’s not funny, it’s disgusting and disrespectful! We are not going anywhere or doing anything until I find out who it was!”
My friend and I were stunned and scared, I don’t know what kind of reaction we thought it would get, but we weren’t expecting his fury. The class sat in silence while he ranted and raved. I was thinking about confessing, when one of my classmates pointed to an innocent girl and said that he had seen her up by the teacher’s desk . I was ashamed but relieved when he called her up to the front of the class to make her take the Kleenex out of the podium to throw them away. Despite her protestations of innocence, he seemed convinced that she was the one who had done it and that was the end of it. After her public humiliation, class continued and she went back to her desk and sat there silently crying.
Even though people I have mentioned it to say it was a small thing and she probably has forgotten it, I wonder. There are little slights that were done to me as a child that in retrospect weren’t that big of a deal, but bothered me for a long time growing up. It still bothers me that I let someone get in trouble for something I did that was so little and stupid. If I would let someone take the fall for something small, would I do it for something bigger? I found her online and sent her an email apology. I don’t know what she will think when she reads it, but I hope that it gives her some feeling of satisfaction.
And what about when it is something much larger? A guy I know well, (lets call him Ben) was blamed for a playground accident when he was in elementary school that ended up seriously injuring two kids. They told the authorities that Ben was responsible. He became an outcast at school and was sent to therapy for “troubled” kids. The accident was highly publicized and Ben said when the school finally found out he wasn’t involved, it was pretty much an “Oh sorry about that” from the principal, but his innocence was not publicized as much as the accident had been. He remained a pariah until he graduated.
This has played a large part in his bitterness towards the world, even as an adult today. He has a hard time trusting people, and who would blame him? I am sure those other kids were just scared and didn’t have the cognizance to realize how much their lie would ruin an innocent kid’s childhood. Kids do stupid things.
But I am not a kid anymore and I can’t use that excuse. I hope that in the future, if I do something stupid that gets someone in trouble, that I will have the guts to stand up and say, “It was me”.