Early last spring, a young lady who was a high school senior was an intern in The Covington News newsroom. She came in a few afternoons a week, was willing to try anything and was always cheerful. She entertained us with her stories about high school.
One day she sat down at what she thought was her computer and discovered that someone had played musical chairs with the computers again (something that happens often at The News). Her old screen saver was a picture of her puppy. That picture was lost in computer space, and she exclaimed that she now had a funny new screen saver, some old Mayan ruin.
None of us could figure out what she was talking about, so I got up to look at her computer screen. The picture on it was of Stonehenge.
I just lost it and screeched at her (I was a lifelong Brit Lit teacher, after all). How could she not know what Stonehenge was, I asked.
Everyone else in the newsroom was laughing, not at the young woman, but at my reaction.
I have to say that the young lady was more of an adult than I was.
She good-naturedly admitted that she had no idea what Stonehenge was and calmly accepted my apology.
I promise you that as soon as I came to my senses, I apologized and apologized a few more times over the course of a week.
I also brought her some pictures and explanations of why Stonehenge is such an important historic site.
And I gave her a gift certificate for fast food.
Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument on the chalk plains of Salisbury in England. It is older than the pyramids. The builders of the henge (There were other henges all over northern Europe, some wooden and some stone) used techniques they were not supposed to know, techniques that other civilizations did not utilize until much later. And the civilization that built Stonehenge is pretty much a mystery to modern historians, as is the purpose of Stonehenge.
Some people claim it was a place of sacrifices; some claim it’s a giant calendar of sorts that could predict lunar events. Some claim it was it was the site of the Druid religion.
But the site predates the Druids.
It is not the young lady’s fault that no one exposed her to that information. And I am not blaming her teachers. Today’s teachers have to teach to the test, and I am sure Stonehenge was not on the test.
But that incident has never sat easily on my conscience. I acted like a bully.
Newspapers and television stations are quick to jump on the most recent cases of bullying that occur in schools, and schools should be rightly vigilant about such incidents.
But all incidents of bullying are not sensational and do not result in injury or loss of life.
And all don’t occur among students in schools.
Most incidents occur without a ripple, as those who are bullied just accept their fate. They soon believe that they deserve the bullying and accept it as the norm.
We, as adults, need to monitor ourselves. We need to be aware that we are setting an example for those who look up to us.
Sometimes, we are tired and want to take the quickest way to get something done. Sometimes we are hurt and want to hurt someone back. Sometimes we think we are joking and do not realize the person who is the butt of the joke does not see the humor.
Sometimes we bully others to build up our own self-confidence. Sometimes we are the boss and want to reinforce that fact.
Inadvertent or deliberate — either way, bullying hurts.
And we are doing our colleagues, children and friends no favors by teaching those around us to be bullies and undercutting any self-confidence those who are bullied have.
In my old age, I no longer see things starkly as right or wrong. I find myself empathizing with both sides of a problem. I hope I am becoming a kinder and gentler person.
Paula Travis is a retired teacher from the Newton County School System. She can be reached at email@example.com.