I was recently on the receiving end of some quite bizarre behaviour. I met a woman who took a dislike to me. This happens; we can’t all like everyone. It was not her dislike of me that was bizarre – it’s her right to decide I’m not her kind of person – it was the way it manifested itself that was so strange, coming from a grown woman.
At various times during the period we spent together she kicked me, planted herself between me and a person I was chatting with, ostentatiously turning her back to me while I was talking and beginning her own conversation with my friend and generally either engaged in embarrassing episodes of one-upmanship or pointedly ignored me at any time we were both involved in a group conversation.
Luckily, I am a fairly thick-skinned person and get on with the vast majority of people I meet. I am well travelled and have made friends all over the planet in the 34 years that I’ve been on it. This experience affords me the inner strength to tell myself that the problem in this situation was with her and not me; it was still pretty hurtful, but I have the fortitude of adulthood which enabled me to not let it ruin my day.
As a teacher, I often have to deal with the consequences of young people being picked on. Amongst other things, this involves reiterating the standard messages that we all heard when we were younger: “they’re not worth it,” “don’t let them see that they’ve upset you,” “the bullies are the weak ones,” etc. As I was attempting to let her hateful attitude be like water off my duck-like back I was acutely aware that my 15 year old self would not have had the strength of character to be quite so unruffled by the experience. For the first time in years of working with young people I got a real, visceral sense of how damaging this kind of seemingly fairly innocuous behaviour could be if directed at an averagely fragile teen. Sadly, this insight didn’t extend to something useful I could say to a young person experiencing similar treatment, but it has definitely made me appreciate the supportive role that I can play for someone who is being picked on. Platitudes won’t hurt but they won’t particularly help either; what is more practical is to try to counter the damage caused by this type of grinding negativity by helping the recipients (I hesitate to use the word ‘victims’ as I think it can perpetuate the feelings of inadequacy) learn to have confidence in themselves as worthwhile people. The way to achieve that is different for every child – part of the skill of the professional is to try to find the right method for each individual.
Travel extends and challenges us in unforeseen ways sometimes; it is ironic that the net outcome of this woman’s poor behaviour will actually be positive as I am now better able to support my students as they deal with the crap that life throws at them than I was before experiencing her childishness. For that, my students, my students yet to come and I thank her very much.