“I’m Not the Only One” Part 2
(Continued from January 4)
As it turned out, I did not have to wait long for an opportunity to address the bullying issue. Later that week Davion did come to my office to complain about Jeremy, telling me about his intimidating behavior and threatening language, emphasizing, “It’s not just me. He’s does it to everybody.”
He talked for a while, and I listened intently. When he was finished, I said slowly and thoughtfully, pondering the situation, “I think I understand. Tell me about the last time it happened.”
“It just happened today,” he said, as if he were still trying to convince me that there was a problem.
“What happened? Give me the blow-by-blow so I can see it like a movie in my head.”
“Well, we were playing soccer on the playground, see, and the ball went out, and we both chased it, but I got there first and picked it up, but he tried to take it out of my hands and when I wouldn’t let go and twisted away, he pushed me and said, ‘gimme the ball and came at me like he was going to hit me.”
I nodded knowingly. (Don’t we all know this situation?)
“So what did you do?” I asked.
“So I gave him the ball.”
“Hmmmm.” I said nodding thoughtfully. There was silence for a while.
“What would happen,” I asked, “if you had faced him, holding the ball like this,” and I pretended to hold the ball with both arms across my chest, “looked him straight in the eye and said: ‘stop that’?”
“He would hit me.”
“Really? Are you sure?”
“Then what would happen if you hit him back?”
“I’d get kicked out.”
“Really?” I asked.
“Well, I would get in trouble.”
“Well, maybe. But you would both get in trouble, right?”
“Yes, I guess so.”
“You might both be sent to my office, right?”
“Yes, I guess so.”
We looked into each other’s eyes for a few seconds. I felt a click of understanding. He left the office.
Neither Jeremy nor Davion ever got into trouble, again. As far as I know there were no more incidents the teachers couldn’t handle. I talked to the homeroom teacher to inquire a week or so later, and she confirmed that Jeremy was no longer bothering Davion. The epidemic of intimidation stopped. Four years later, they both graduated from eighth grade in good standing. I never had to speak to Jeremy the perpetrator, again, either.
It sounds like I had a magic wand, and indeed it felt like I had actually waved one. But what did I do right? That question rattled around my brain for some time. Did I make a mistake?
One thing I did learn is to pay attention when someone says: “It’s not just me….” For the first few years I just noted it. Then, I began to respond to it with something like: “It doesn’t matter to me whether or not there are other people. You are upset. Let’s deal with that.” For the last ten years I would often find myself saying: “Let’s make it just you. Right now, to me, you are what matters.”
What do you think I did right, or did I just get lucky? What do you think? What would you have done?