Lately, however, my friend has suspended his political and economic commentaries in favor of daily encomiums about Susan Boyle, the homely spinster [I'm using un-PC terminology, but try to come up with a more descriptive word-pair in a Twittering world] who became an overnight singing sensation. Yesterday, he elucidated his reasons in a long e-mail, reproduced below:
After some thought, I thought I would share some personal reasons Susan Boyle resonates with me, which go back many years. My elementary school experience, in particular, goes to show you never know what will come of your actions.
When I was growing up, I went through eleven school systems in twelve years, as my father kept moving the family (due to employer mergers, transfers, and changes in job).
This is something I would not wish on anyone. Virtually every year I was faced with having to go into a new environment and try to build new friendships. Just as I succeeded in doing so, my family moved again.
The real nightmare, though, for me was Physical Education class. I discovered that, as the "new kid," I was mercilessly taunted and ridiculed whenever I had a misstep. If I missed hitting a ball when at bat, failed to catch a ball, missed the basket when throwing a basketball, etc., I was mercilessly made fun of and ridiculed. This hurt me very deeply and I came to truly hate Phys. Ed. class. I think my lack of interest in sports today can be traced to this experience. As a result, I feel I know exactly how Susan Boyle felt when she was taunted.
I feel, however, this made me a much better person than I might have been otherwise. Knowing exactly how it felt to be on the receiving end of abuse, I resolved that I would never be guilty of inflicting this type of pain on others.
My chance to escape all of this came when I went to college at The University of Connecticut. Suddenly I was in a situation where everyone was in the same boat. We were all strangers needing to build new friendships. I was on equal footing with everyone else. I finally came into my own, getting elected to many student leadership positions and building many friendships.
I mentioned some cases where I helped others in college. Another occurred to me. There was an unbelievably reclusive person in my dormitory. He avoided contact with people. He would get up at 5:30 A.M. and go to the dining hall for breakfast when it opened at 6:00 A.M. He would get a boxed lunch and then spend the day either in class or the library. Finally, he would show up for dinner just before the dining hall closed at 7:00 P.M. and then go back to the library until it closed at 12:00 Midnight. He would leave for home on Friday afternoon when his classes ended and return on Monday morning. He was known in the dormitory as "The Phantom" because 95+% of people had never even seen him. Some people in the dorm bragged about how, at times, they would get up early or go to dinner late just to torment him. I found this repulsive and decided I would work to change this. Over the course of the year I made an effort to meet and get to know him. I encouraged him to come to get to know some people and got some people I knew to join in in my efforts. We succeeded by the end of the year in at least bringing him into more social interaction and to join some of us for meals in a friendly, supportive environment, even if he was never destined to be a truly social person. He seemed to be happy about this, particularly that there were people who would treat him as one of them and not abuse him. I never did discover what event in his past, as I rightly or wrongly assume, made him so averse to social interaction.
I am sure that today there are many classmates of Susan Boyle who wish they had been her friend, now that she is destined to be a huge success. However, friendships should be genuine, not based on self-interest and greed. But, they might reflect on how, if they had been kinder, gentler people, they might have been her friends today.
In that vein, I want to tell you about what was, for me, a memorable event in sixth grade. I was going to a school in Greenwood, Virginia (my father loved to live in the backwaters of America). Greenwood was a farming community. There was a student in my class that had flunked sixth grade three times (they actually had academic standards when I went through school, unlike today, where everyone passes). He was the son of a sharecropper and I learned from others that his family was extremely poor. He was, as would be expected, the largest student in the class and quite muscular from farming activities (we were around twelve and he must have been fifteen). He was shunned by most of the class. He was viewed as being stupid. However, I was nice to him when I encountered him. As a result, I think he felt able to ask me one day if he could borrow a quarter for lunch (this was back when a U.S. dollar was actually worth something). I knew, from what I had heard, that many days he went without lunch, because his family could not afford it. Therefore, I knew it was extremely unlikely I would get paid back. However, I did not want to see him go hungry, so I willingly "lent" him the quarter, never expecting I would get it back. After that, periodically he would seek to borrow a quarter for lunch again. For the same reason as before, not wanting to see him go hungry, I "lent" him the money. He never threatened or tried to intimidate me into lending him the money, he just asked very politely and I think would have accepted it if I said no or made an excuse of not having any extra money. Indeed, it became sort of a ritual where we both knew the truth, I was really making a "gift" to him of the money, but we pretended it was a loan. Nevertheless, I felt good knowing that I kept him from going hungry at lunch.
I never expected anything in return from him for doing this. I never foresaw any way I could benefit from doing this, other than feeling I was helping make his life better. Yet, I was very wrong (just as many in Susan Boyle's village were wrong and now, and, no doubt, wish they were her friends).
There was a bully in my class, one of the bigger students, who liked to pick on, and beat up, people. One day, after school, he decided I was going to be his victim of the day. As I was leaving school, he came up to me and started pushing me around and wanted to start a fight. I, of course, had no desire to enter into a senseless fight, much less one I knew I was sure to lose. A crowd of students had started to gather to watch me get beaten up. There was little I could do to stop what I viewed as the inevitable course of events. Just at this time the sharecropper's son walked out of the school. He saw what was happening and he pushed his way through the crowd of students and came up to the bully and grabbed the collar of his shirt, pulling him away from me. He said to the bully that, if he wanted a fight, he should fight him. Of course, the bully did not want to fight him. He then told the bully that, if he ever bothered me again, he would come looking for him. And then he let go of his collar and walked away. The bully, of course, then retreated and left me alone after that, even though he picked on other victims.
You should never be nice to other people expecting something in return, but this goes to show: you never know. I will remember that sharecropper's son until the day I die, and the act of kindness he did for me. © 2009 L Haynes