A little piece of my heart died the other day. It always does, when I hear people crucifying somebody who isn't present. In this instance, it was a group of teenagers talking about an individual they all disliked. In spite of my attempts to change the track of the conversation, the boys who were leading the discussion were determined to one-up the other in describing the vile behavior of the student they were shredding. The rest of the class kept nodding in agreement.
It made me remember a time when I was working in a Freshman math class. A student joined the class in the middle of the second quarter. The day he walked in, the whole class started murmuring. I couldn't hear what people were saying, until one student said, quite loudly, "Oh, (student name), is in this class now. Everybody hates him."
The student walked to his desk and sat down without giving any indication he heard the comment. It became quickly evident why the other kids didn't like him because he was quite a bully. But I couldn't help wondering how it felt to walk into a room full of peers - which is difficult in and of itself - and hear the comment that everyone hated me. I am guessing that would make a hard heart even harder. It made me feel sad. He often made me feel sad - and eventually was kicked out of the class, and then the school.
The thing that always comes to mind is that I have never met a newborn or an infant who acts like an, please excuse my language, asshole - as my students were saying about the individual they were talking about. People are just not born into this world that way. Something happens somewhere in their lives - maybe some physical or chemical change, or their living environment, a huge loss, or neglect or pain - something happens that causes them to act the way they do.
I feel if we knew everyone's backstory, we would be much gentler with each other. I know that not everyone who has been through difficult situations turns into a bully, but some do. Maybe that is the only way they know how to cope. Maybe they need kind people in their lives who will handle them gently and cautiously - refusing to announce to the world that everybody hates them. Maybe we will be kind and gentle and it won't seem to matter at the time. But maybe, just maybe someday those individuals will remember the one person who tried.
I know, I know, I'm dreaming. But still. I never give up hope that we as a society can change, and it has to start somewhere. Why not with us?
I have a degree in communication from Spring Arbor University. I know that many people pursue higher education more for the opportunities it can provide than for the actual learning, but I am a weirdo. I love to learn, and when I chose to pursue an education in communication it was because the whole topic fascinates me. There really isn't an area of life in which communication does not play a part. I learned many interesting things in my communications program. One of the lessons that has stuck with me throughout the years, is something we learned in a class that mainly discussed communication in relationships.
The concept that resonated with me is called "nexting". Basically, the concept of nexting is a reminder that there is nearly always a next time for every communication situation. No matter how badly a communication situation went, I can always take the time to think about it and make plans for how I can do it better the next time. I have used nexting to fix a lot of difficult relationships in my life.
There are some people I just seem to conflict with. They rub me the wrong way, or I rub them the wrong way, and things just deteriorate when we interact. What I have learned, is that when I take time to think about a particularly difficult encounter when communication fell apart, I can often see how I contributed to the difficulties. I am ALWAYS able to improve my relationships by "nexting" - and making a plan for how I will interact the next time I meet that individual.
For example, I decide I won't let someone's bluntness, or apparent rudeness derail me from the topic we are trying to discuss. Or maybe he/she is a person who always brings up the past, and I allow myself to be dragged into old arguments or hurts. Or maybe he/she seems really cold and aloof, and my instinct is to respond equally cold and aloof. Those are all situations I have been in, and it helps when I decide that next time I will respond, react, or reply differently.
It really does work. I have become friends with one particular individual who always used to make me feel crazy. I had to be willing to assess myself, and put the time into making the situation better, but now we are friends. I suggest we all start nexting. There is almost always a next time, and we have the power to change it.