Daring Greatly: Stop That Buck!

How often, do you think, is shame used as a strategy in schools and organizations?

Not too often, did you say? I’m reminded of a painful incident from many years ago.

Those days I was focused on studying and understanding Dyslexia. I had studied the way dyslexics must be taught and was using the remedial teaching methods with a few students I had. One of the students was a taciturn but affectionate boy I will call Amit.

When Amit came to me, he was seventeen years old. He was studying in ninth grade and the tenth board loomed large. He had his own challenges to deal with but his mother being a school teacher greatly exacerbated his troubles. Unfortunately for him, his academic performance became her personal yardstick of her own effectiveness as a teacher. And so, he was pushed (and I mean REALLY pushed) to perform better.

But a push isn’t a valid strategy. Ever. So he was brought to me when she was at her wits’ end.

As he studied with me, he began to improve… very slowly. His mom wasn’t happy at all. I am certain she thought I had a magic wand hidden somewhere in the folds of my sari. She was peeved when I wouldn’t pull it out and set her son right with it. It wasn’t easy, but I managed to placate her most weeks when we met for his assessment. But she continued to think that her son was deeply flawed. She was very much the victim.

Meanwhile, the boy began to open up. He began to laugh uproariously at his own quirky jokes. I discovered that he had an amazing talent to visually illustrate any story or anecdote that was read/ recited to him. I still have the large painting he made for me when I told him a story from Panchtantra.

I noticed early on that he had a deep aversion to Hindi. Since his mother-tongue was Tamil, I put this aversion down to a learned distaste. But I was wrong. I should have noticed that his aversion was not because of his unfamiliarity with the language. There was fear in his regard for it; there was deep shame.

One day, during the course of a Hindi class… suddenly…. out of the blue… the real reason came tumbling out of him in a breathless rush. He was at once startled and relieved when he had finished telling me of the incident.

Apparently, his Hindi teacher in school was a particularly sadistic woman. She saw his fumbling efforts with making sense of the language and decided to cure him in all her clueless wisdom.

She took to asking him to come to the blackboard while she dictated difficult words for him to write on it. Obviously, he couldn’t. And there, keeping him standing in abject shame and humiliation in front of the entire class, she would bait him and make fun of him. Naturally, kids being kids, they too would join in. What she never bothered to consider is that Amit became the butt of cruel jibes from his classmates even when her class was over.

Though people are laughing at the dirt surrounding you, they are missing to see the seeds also planted, growing silently within.

~ Anthony Liccione

Though his classmates were cruel and mean to him, Amit did not blame them. He wouldn’t let me think poorly of them either. He told me that they were his friends; that they were only joking and that I must not let myself think badly of them.

What broke me down that day was to hear him say, “It was not my teacher’s fault also no ma’am? She was only trying to make sure I learn my spellings. But ma’am, it was very difficult to stand there, in front of the whole class with the chalk piece in my hand. I often wished I could turn invisible those days.”

I sat there, numbed, his unexpressed pain washing over me like a tidal wave. I was humbled by his readiness to excuse and forgive his tormentors. His generosity and large heartedness made his story even more poignant to me. The unfairness of his life and the gentleness of his outlook astounded me.

Many of those who are humiliated are not humble. Some react to humiliation with anger, others with patience, and others with freedom. The first are culpable, the next harmless, the last just.

~ Bernard of Clairvaux

No matter how forgiving Amit was, however, it does not excuse what was done to him. He deserved better. Already a child trying to find his moorings and feeling like a misfit, to subject him to such humiliation was callous and vicious. That it was not done deliberately but out of ignorance makes it worse, not better.

All children need a champion- preferably an adult. Not to molly-coddle, no. They need a champion so that they can be protected against attacks they are not equipped to repel. They need a champion so they can be assured that people like Amit’s teacher are unfair and wrong. Someone ought to have told Amit that there was nothing wrong with him; that his talents were too extensive to be limited by mere academic evaluation.

But Amit had no champion. His disappointed mother definitely wasn’t. His teachers weren’t. Nor was his silent father. They all left the poor boy to flounder after throwing him into the ocean without so much as a life-jacket. And that was horribly, terribly wrong.

Character is less about what we do wrong


All about what we make right….

~ Navonne Johns

As Ms Brown says, she is yet to visit an organization or school where shaming is not used as a strategy. Are we even aware how we damage each other by deliberately belittling and shaming each other in an attempt to motivate them? What makes us use such flawed and damaged strategies!? Such pathetic and clueless paradigms about what inspires and propels people!

The infection propagates unheeded, leaking into the minds and hearts of the next generation, like color bleeding out of one fabric to taint the character of a pure fabric. Before you know it, you too become an image of that which you hated yourself. You remain trapped in that state until something (or someone) causes you to take a detached, objective look at yourself.

That’s when you know where the buck stops.

Daring Greatly- Stop That Buck
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Daring Greatly: Stop That Buck!

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14 thoughts on “Daring Greatly: Stop That Buck!”

  1. Every time I read your post, I’m from forced to think, nod and even reminisce about what or how I am or was. Your words touch that part of me which makes me a learn something new or unlearn something bad. Thank you is all I can say 🙂

  2. Very often it is the learned that presume to know!

    In their presumption – to knowing everything – they unleash cruelty that can at times rival dictators. In their own little way they break down and eliminate what could have been a generation of geniuses.

    Sadly, even when this is pointed out – by the parent to the teacher – instead of ‘understanding’ they intensify the alienation of the child and single him/her out to be ridiculed. It takes a lot of guts on the parent’s part to speak to the teacher.

    Once more, you have touched a subject which is so prevalent yet so often brushed under the carpet. You, “ma’am”, are a teacher every child should have in his/her formative years…even a year of you would instill a lifetime of confidence.

    1. I agree with you. If a parent dares to speak up to a teacher, the child is then singled out with greater ferocity. Malevolence is added to ignorance, creating a veritable hell for the child. And so, parents are reluctant to earn the ire of a teacher.

      But then, what of the child? Is it not the job of a parent to protect the child from the attack of viciousness? How come they convince themselves that they have no better options? What creates this state of helpless hopelessness? A child who watches his parent reduced to helplessness will learn all the wrong lessons about his own worth in the world and his own capabilities, would he not? How can parent take the risk of doing that?

      As for the rest, you are biased. As always.

  3. *Nods away*
    Often, it is the ‘educated’ that take advantage of the ‘un-or-less-educated’ I feel. It’s almost like ‘I know I’m better than you, so let me show it off’. Humility is perhaps what lacks in the manner they deal with things.
    Of course, as from your example, I’ve seen it happen a lot with different teachers. And complaining will only make the issue worse. The child then gets singled out. But not doing anything, is even worse, I suppose.

    1. Yeah, not complaining would really create more problems- and longer lasting ones- than possible (or probable) singling out by a teacher. It might teach your child that his person is not worth fighting for, to you. That would be devastating.

  4. I am trying to picture Amit sitting there with you, sharing this painful story of being humiliated like that and asking you to not think badly of his teacher or classmates. I don’t even know how to imagine what must be going on in this kid’s heart and mind all through that experience! What kind of sick satisfaction do some people get when they humiliate or shame another person like this? Does this tendency come easy when someone is intoxicated with the power or authority of their position? This is even more sickening when such things happen in schools which are supposed to nurture these growing souls. Instead they are crushed and beaten down like this!

    1. You know Beloo, what makes me very sad is the knowledge that people like Amit’s teacher actually think they are doing a good thing. They think ridiculing and shaming would make the student pull up his socks and make a greater effort. That’s probably what was done to them too. But they don’t realize that everyone does not react in the same way to the same stimulus. Those who use this kind of shaming to impel them to greater effort are more than likely to propagate the disease… since it worked so well for them.

      The world is full of quicksands like these. You never know when the protector will turn executioner.

  5. It broke my heart to read about Amit and his ordeal. And your words, ‘Every child needs a champion,’ are ringing in my ears. Wish they had aptitude tests for teachers to see how good they are with children and their psychology. But that is too much to ask for isn’t it?

    1. It really was very sad Zephyr. In India, people become teachers as a stop-gap arrangement… it is not a calling to them but more in the nature of a prelude. Prelude to a better job, to marriage, to motherhood. There are schools in Jabalpur who allow honorary teachers to walk into a class. Imagine that! Such schools don’t even pay as much as Rs 500/- pm to such teachers! Can you imagine the quality of such teachers? Makes me so mad!

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