Not My Proudest Moment

In some ways it was just an ordinary high school day, but the moment is still clear in my mind. I don’t think it was the event itself or it’s details that make it linger with me to this day, but rather the conflict that was going on inside. Simultaneously I was feeling both regret and satisfaction. I felt sorry for him, but at the same time, I was glad to be one of his tormentors.

I changed high schools half-way through Grade 10. It wasn’t really my choice, I didn’t want to change schools, but my parents felt it was the best option for me at the time. I entered the hallways of Heart Lake Secondary School in February of 1993 very nervous, filled with anxiety, not knowing what to expect. I had French, English, Phys. Ed and Science on my timetable. My home room was in the same room as my English class so I picked a locker nearby and went to class.

I met a nice guy in one of my morning classes. We joked around a bit and I was glad to connect with someone. Soon though, the time I had been dreading arrived; lunch time. I knew some people at the school already, but some weren’t on my lunch and some weren’t even at school on the first day. I made my way to the cafeteria and, just as I feared, I was confronted by a room full of strangers. I didn’t know anybody... Until I spotted the guy who had been in my class earlier, I confidently made my way over to say hey. He was hanging out with some girls and I tried to strike up a conversation. It became quickly apparent that he was trying to blow me off and had no desire to hang out with me during this lunch break. I was definitely discouraged. I wandered around solo for the lunch period and prayed that this would not be my typical high school experience.

Time passed and that lunch time was far behind me. I made friends, and then I made more friends, and then I made more friends. Heart Lake SS became, for me, a place where I never felt alone again. Unfortunately, I don’t think everyone shared my experience at my high school, including my classmate who brushed me off on my first day at HLSS.

As part of Phys. Ed we had a number of health classes. We wouldn’t meet in the gymnasium, but instead hold class in the auto shop to learn about drugs, sex etc. I always seemed to be in a pretty rowdy class and we got in plenty of trouble during our days in the auto shop. I think I was in Grade 12 by this point and my old ‘friend’ from Grade 10 was in my class. He had gotten all of his hair braided into little tight braids and wore Doc Marten boots, not tied but with the laces loose. At this point in the mid-90s he was kind of dressed like a ‘gangsta’, although that word was not nearly as popular then. Unfortunately for him, neither was he. There was nothing particularly wrong about the way he dressed, his hair, or his boots, he just wasn’t ‘cool’ enough to get away with it. A different person with the same style might have avoided ridicule... he didn’t.

I can’t remember who started it, but someone started threatening to cut off one of his braids. More people joined in and a few of us would try sneaking up with scissors to get one... I’m not sure if we actually intended to snip one or not, or just to tease the poor guy... the latter was definitely working. At some point someone got a hold of one of his boots and threw it in a tall dumpster out behind the classroom (the garage door was open to give the auto shop some air).

Even before that moment you could tell that he was incredibly uncomfortable and wanted the teasing and jokes to stop. He mostly just grinned and played along. When the boot went in the dumpster; game over. Then he was upset and angry and wanted his boot back and everyone got what they wanted; a bit of a freak out and an opportunity to laugh at the loser.

What I remember most of all was in the moments when we were trying to snip his braids; his obvious discomfort, the pained look on his face as he played along. I remember thinking to myself how much I would hate to be in his position at that moment. I felt bad for him. There was a part of me that wished the teasing would stop and we would leave the poor guy alone. But, there was another stream of thought happening at the same time. It was like an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. The devil was whispering, “Remember when this guy didn’t want to hang out with you on your first day? Remember when he was ‘too cool’ for you?” While I genuinely felt sorry for him, I also took a lot of satisfaction for this reversal in roles. I was able to convince myself, to a certain extent, that he deserved what he was getting now. “If he would have stuck with me, he wouldn’t be the loser he is today... Look at you now big guy! Who’s the loser now? Who’s the one who’s all alone now?”

... Not my proudest moment.

I don’t want to forget it though. When I’m giving talk after talk that urges youth people to choose the way of Love, Dignity and Respect, I don’t want to forget that I know what it is like to choose the opposite. I’m not the perfect role model for my message, more like a guy who got it wrong more often than right and hope that I can inspire others to choose a better way.

I also don’t want to forget how complex we are. How we can feel sorry for someone and yet satisfied at the same time, convincing ourselves that they are getting their just desserts; empathy mixed with cruelty. We are not one-dimensional characters with the good guys and the bad guys so easy to distinguish between. We live our life with conflicts in intentions and motivations, with disconnects between what we believe to be right and our actions.

Inevitably our actions are what determine who we really are. I wasn’t a ‘good guy’ because of my inner conflict and thoughts of compassion; I was a bully because of what I chose to do. Choosing to do the right thing is what makes us stand apart. Our actions reveal our character. Doing the right thing will make us True Rebels... not just thinking about it.

I never saw myself as a bully in high school. I think I was generally a pretty nice guy. I have wondered from time to time though, how many people have memories of me as a bully, as someone who used popularity and bold personality to knock others down? Unfortunately, I’m sure it’s more than just this one classmate from one class in an auto shop.

While I am genuinely sorry for any pain I caused anyone in high school, I don’t regret this memory. I will take inspiration from anywhere I can to remind me to choose a better way and have my actions, and not just my thoughts, be truly rebellious.

We live our life with

We live our life with conflicts in intentions and motivations, with disconnects between what we believe to be right and our actions.-Garrett Hoelscher

Great quote!

Great quote!

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