The assignment for the teachers was simple: teach a unit to your students about bullying. We were given some standard slides to show our class (or power points. Whatever. I know, I’m stuck in the ‘80s.) And then we were told that we could add our own personal stories.
Lucky for me, I was a somewhat overweight child with a maiden name that could be pronounced “Ox.” I was a “smarty pants kid “that skipped Kindergarten and wore giant large-rimmed glasses that were later made famous by Mrs. Doubtfire. I was going to totally nail this teaching assignment.
During a brainstorming session with the other teachers, one suggested we read a book called “Chrysanthemum” to our students. “Chrysanthemum” is the story of a young mouse (named Chrysanthemum) who gets teased about her name. Before reading the book, she suggested that we have the students each cut out a paper heart. While reading the story, each time Chrysanthemum is bullied, we would have the children crumple up the heart and then try to smooth it out again. By the end of the story, the heart is crumpled several times, and the paper is never as smooth as it once was. The lesson, she said, is that being mean to a person can have lasting effects, and that even with an apology, a heart may never recover.
“Um, I’m sorry,” I said. “I think that’s a lovely lesson and all, and perhaps I’m overthinking this a bit, but isn’t that sort of overdramatic? I mean, shouldn’t we really be teaching these kids about getting over bad shit that happens to them and not dragging around their childhood pain forever?”
Silence. Crickets. And then, “Alrighty. Well, is everyone else o.k. with this project?”
That’s me. The rebel teacher of the 4th grade.
Perhaps it’s because it’s that time of year where Jews have to feel bad about the pain they caused everyone during the past year. Perhaps it’s because we are in the middle of a political season where the candidates spend most of their time drudging up their opponents’ past mistakes. Or perhaps it’s because I have not personally had the greatest year of my own life.
Whatever it is, I’m feeling like it’s time to move on. The air is much more polluted with negativity and anger in this country than whatever it is that is eating away at our earth’s core. We wear our hatred for each other like it’s the latest fashion trend. We seem to be proud to show it off.
Our Temple has issued a challenge to it’s members this Rosh Hashanah season. Our rabbis gave each of us a rubber bracelet to wear this week. We have been told to start out in the morning by putting it on one wrist. Each time we complain about anything throughout the day, we have to switch it to the other wrist. The rabbis want us to be consciously aware of how many times we change that bracelet back and forth each day. In this country, they said, we complain way too much. In order to make things better here, we need to try and stop it.
I know I’m part of the problem. I have changed my bracelet back and forth 25 times since 11:00 a.m. (Sample hour of my life: Why do people take so long in the g-damned bathroom at Starbucks? Are they taking a shower in there? How do I always manage to pick the longest check-out line at the grocery store? How is she so skinny? Doesn’t she eat? This traffic is so slow. I’m swear, I’m going to ram into the driver in front of me if she doesn’t just f*cking move.)
But rebel teacher or not, I feel that it’s better to teach these 9 year olds to deal with the bad stuff now so that they don’t carry around their anger forever. As my Rabbi told us this morning, the less we complain, the less toxic energy we are throwing into the universe. Focus on what you have, instead of obsessing about what you don’t. Focus on the good things in your life, however small, instead of incessantly talking about the bad.
So, I did my own little lesson on bullying instead of the Chrysanthemum lesson. Through role play, I gave the students scenarios in which someone was super disrespectful or obnoxious to someone else. The class had to decide how a situation could have been handled better. And at the end of each scenario, they had to look each other in the eye, apologize to each other, accept the apology, and move the hell on with their lives with the hope that the next person they interact with that day would be a little less of an asshole than the previous person. (or some nicer version of that.)
The lesson? Even with a crumpled heart, we have got to learn to stop complaining about the past. We have got to stop letting the hurt and anger consume us.
Move on. Get over it. Enjoy life. Move forward. Be happy. Stop complaining. To me, that is the lesson that we really want to teach our next generation.
And as for me? I’m going to really, really try and keep my bracelet on one wrist as much as possible.