I had the distinct pleasure of reconnecting with my 7th grade teacher (Mr. Wood in “A Ladder In The Dark”) who I shared my book with as he played a pivotal role as one of my first mentors in the book. Mr. Wood was my Social Studies teacher, but more than that, he was a mentor who helped me during a very low point in my youth bullying times. He wanted to talk after reading the book, because he felt that the book spoke to him and shared with me that he has had to deal with bullying with his own sons, who also suffer with the long-term effects of what happened to them during their youth.
It was a great pleasure to be able to speak to Mr. Wood again. He means a lot to me, as all mentors do, I’m sure. The most interesting part of the conversation though, was when we brought up old names from those years. I asked him if he remembered “Bob” from my book, who was one of the first to start bullying me. I had talked to Bob and we repaired the hurt from that time. Bob had shared with me that he didn’t really quite remember me and certainly didn’t remember bullying me. But he also shared he was going through tough times at home (a common story with bullies). In fact, Bob shared with me, he felt he was the defender of those that were bullied.
I did believe that he could have changed as he got older. He had stopped bullying me around the 5th grade, when I fought back. But, Mr. Wood shared a story about Bob as he lit up when I mentioned Bob’s name. Mr. Wood told me that there was a young boy at the middle school who was mentally disabled. One day a kid bullied him in the lunch room both physically and mentally, making fun of his disability. This certainly is a common issue.
Mr. Wood then shared that Bob had heard about the bullying and who did it. The next day at school, Bob walked up to the boy who was bullying the disabled child and just punched him in the face and then told him if he ever picked on that boy again, he would get more. The bully had a big shiner and, of course, Mr. Wood had to punish Bob for punching him. Unfortunately, that’s just the way it works as what Bob did could be seen by school administration.
Mr. Wood took Bob into his office and sat him down. He was going to be suspended for the rest of the day for punching the bully. Again, this is just how school operates. As Mr. Wood talked to Bob, he shared that, while he had to tell Bob that physical violence wasn’t right, he was proud of Bob for defending the disabled boy. He wanted Bob to know that his action, while not school appropriate, was character appropriate. Mr. Wood remembered all these details and this was in line with what Bob had said.
I think the moral learned here is that people can change. Bob haunted me due to what he did to me, but for others he was a hero. Bob obviously had no issue with using physical force to solve a problem, but at some point he used it not to bully, but to defend others. So, when Bob and I connected years later, it all made sense that he had changed. We all can and should be able to change. I had labelled Bob the bully, but somewhere he changed to be the defender of those that couldn’t defend themselves. So, as you think about this story or even my story in my book, don’t judge too harshly. Allow for people to make mistakes and if they realize it and change, let them know you are proud, because it takes courage to change and realize your mistakes. I have made plenty of mistakes and that is how we learn. Not by success, but by using our mistakes to be better the next time. And so it goes and we shouldn’t judge others, unless we want to be judged ourselves.