I often wonder why we humans sometimes treat each other badly. I can understand getting briefly angry about something. I honestly do that more often than I wish, especially when I am tired. What I cannot understand is deliberately and repeatedly hurting someone. I see posts on Facebook that ask how a person’s mother disciplined them and it features belts, and other forms of physically abusive instruments. I marvel when I see it because my mom never used any of those things on me. She whipped one of my brothers so half hearted with a belt one time that he was unable to maintain his composure and began laughing. She broke out in a knowing smile as well and that was the end of punishments designed to inflict pain. Instead she sat us down and talked about what we had done wrong and helped us to understand that there are better ways of doing things. She even had a rule that we should never go to sleep angry and so there were many late night apologies in our home.
It was not until my mother developed extreme episodes of mania that she would utter hurtful things to us. Since her only professions had always been encouraging and loving we understood that it was not her speaking, but rather her illness. When she was well she was profuse in her declarations of devotion to each of us. I suppose that I developed my own way of relating to other people from her examples. She was always forgiving and guileless in all of her human interactions.
When I was studying to be a teacher I encountered a professor who cautioned me to never degrade either my students or my colleagues regardless of the situation. She noted that I would spend more hours in contact with my students once I was working than I would with my own family since many of my hours at home would be spent sleeping. She pointed out that I would learn the triggers for the individuals that I taught and that it would be bordering on evil to use them. I always tried to remember her words even when a particular child was frustrating me. I chose not to tear anyone down. In fact, I would always assert that I never hated a person but, I sometimes hated what they had done. My students understood and appreciated that distinction and many came to call me “Mama B.”
My mother was a beautiful single woman who wanted and deserved a happy social life beyond spending time with me and my brothers. When I was in college she met a man that she had known as a teen. They began doing things together, but there were things about him that bothered her so she kept him at arm’s length for a very long time. Eventually her loving spirit and compassion led her to consider entering a long term relationship with him, mostly because she believed that he and his young daughter really needed someone like her in their lives. Unfortunately he ended up being a controlling and angry man who emotionally abused her with fear. As I witnessed him destroying her optimism and saw the laughter leaving her I found myself actually hating him and wanting my mother to assert herself and send him away. It was the first and only time my emotions were so strongly negative.
Eventually things came to a head and he left the scene but not before he had done grave damage to her. He had taken advantage of her kindness and had slowly chipped away at her confidence and courage. I saw in real time what my professor at college had warned me to avoid, using my intimate knowledge of someone to destroy them.
I have learned over time that people who verbally or physically attack others have generally been damaged by someone themselves. While I am able to understand why they seem to be filled with rage and hateful behavior, I grieve that there is so much of it in the world. The fact that entire nations sometimes suffer under the weight of psychological terror from a despot is even more tragic. For such a thing to happen in a supposedly free country is even more difficult to understand. Anyone can be strong and tough without ever degrading another person.
I laugh when I think about the time that I served as summer school principal at one of my schools. I had to rather strictly discipline a student who had disregarded the rules on multiple occasions. I used my mother’s method of letting the student know that I truly cared about him, but could not let him think that his poor behavior was acceptable. He took my lecture and his consequences rather well, telling me at the conclusion of our meeting that I would make a great principal. “You are good and mean and fair all at the same time!” he proclaimed.
I wish that everyone learned how to be good and mean and fair all at the same time like I did from my mom. I wish that nobody ever purposely abused another either with words or physicality. Life is hard and we each struggle to find our place in it. We look in the mirror and into our hearts and seem to perceive every flaw that we have. We would all benefit from a kind and lovely talk and a big hunk of forgiveness when we mess things up. My mother understood that so very well. I learned a very important lesson from her. As a teacher it’s the one wish I most like to convey to the world. I would urge everyone to take a breath and be kind, hate the sin but never the sinner. Imagine how great that would be if everyone heeded my word.