The Permanent Mark of Bad Behavior
There are times I feel as though mean and difficult people are the masterminds behind a sinister plot to take over the world. They know they’ll eventually just wear out the rest of us with their rude comments and insensitive behavior.
But then I come to my senses and realize if they were actually smart enough to carry out such a plot, they’d have more sense than a second grader. That’s when you learn some of life’s most important lessons. For example, I learned that a poor decision or a mean word will stay on your permanent record card forever, and a blemish on that card is never going to help you succeed.
Of course, I learned that lesson the hard way. I got the first black mark on my permanent record card when I was in second grade. I’ve had countless since then, but that’s the one that taught me about consequences and guilt.
The exact details of my crime are rather fuzzy, but the guilt is forever etched in my conscience.
The problems started because I was a bus rider.
In second grade, we didn’t have cliques, but there were two distinct groups: bus riders and walkers. (In those days, only the children of teachers came to school in cars.)
I perceived the walkers as privileged. They didn’t have to wait for anyone or abide by any schedule other than the ring of the bell. They didn’t have to arrive at school until the very last minute, and they could leave as soon as the bell rang at the end of the day.
I was jealous.
Those of us who rode the bus were just stuck. Since my bus ran earlier than others, there was a group of us who arrived at school much earlier than we actually needed to be there. In order for school officials to maintain order, they required us to immediately go to the cafeteria and sit quietly until given permission to go to our classrooms.
The wait was long and boring, especially since we were always being told to “quiet down.” Even now, almost 40 years later, I find that difficult. In second grade, it seemed impossible.
I don’t remember who came up with the scheme or how we executed it, but a group of friends and I decided we were going to escape the prison in the cafeteria. We didn’t make it far and were soon discovered hiding in the bathroom. After yelling at us, a teacher escorted my fellow criminals and me to the principal’s office.
The only thing I knew about the principal’s office was that it was where the really bad kids went. I was pretty sure there was a jail cell in there, where we would be handcuffed and chained to the bars as punishment for our crime. My worries grew as we were told to sit outside Mr. Mitchell’s office and “think about what we had done.”
By the time Mr. Mitchell opened his door and told us to come in, I was shaking.
Mr. Mitchell sat behind the desk and lectured us and lectured us and lectured us. As he talked, his face got redder and redder and redder. The only words I remember were “your permanent record card.”
I was supposed to go to college and get a job. I had no idea how I was going to tell my parents that all their hopes and dreams for me had been erased with one stupid decision. (Yes, I really did worry about such things as a young child.)
For years, I worried about my permanent record card and that time in the principal’s office. Many nights, I would lie in bed thinking about the implications. My concerns finally began to fade when I was an adolescent and transferred to a different school district. As my records were being reviewed, no one mentioned my criminal past.
I had been granted a pardon, and I was grateful. But, now, I find myself getting tired of passing on the gift of a pardon to others.
This week I am especially tired. I wrote in another blog about the death of a young West Virginian. While most of the feedback was positive, there were also individuals who left comments that belittled the individual and his way of life. The comments were hurtful and rude and pointless.
They were also permanent. Even if they are deleted, others have already read them, including friends and family members.
The situation bothered me to the point I couldn’t sleep at night worrying whether or not I should even have written about the young man’s death.
But then I remembered another important lesson from second grade: most people are mean to others because they don’t feel good about themselves, so you should try to be nice to them anyway.
I guess I’ll keep trying. Even though the marks made by negative behavior (by both me and by other people) may be permanent, marks for positive behaviors can be permanent too. I just have to keep reminding myself of that.