ECHOES OF KIND WORDS
If they ever asked for a show of hands, he would certainly be voted the least liked kid in my third grade class. Robert just never seemed to fit in. He was always creating minor disruptions in the classroom, and went out of his way to get kids to dislike him.
It was my first year at a new school and wouldn't you know the person I was placed next to was Robert. It was important to me to fit in and to do well in my new classroom. What a way to begin the school year!
I had always seen myself as a peacemaker. I had no problem asserting myself in a peaceful and loving way when I felt someone was being mean or unfair to me or someone else. After all, I had a 17-year-old brother who had taught me everything about being a peacemaker, and I had my role models, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi as my guides. But did that mean I had to like Robert?
That was the challenge I was faced with. My family encouraged me to look at how I was being prejudiced because Robert was different and difficult to be around. They suggested if I really wanted to be a peacemaker, I needed to turn around my negative judgments by trying to find something positive about him and paying him some compliments. I agreed to try because I always like a challenge, and I wanted to prove to myself that I could be a peacemaker no matter what, like King and Gandhi.
I began slowly, but I was a boy on a mission, and I would not fail! The first day we got into an argument because he had brought Pokemon cards to school. When I knowingly pointed out to him that the teacher absolutely forbade kids from bringing them to school, he claimed he didn't know that. I quickly reminded him that the teacher had told us several times, and I even got other kids in on the argument by asking them if they agreed. I wasn't going to let him get away with his excuse!
The second day he made a point of showing me he still had a Pokemon card in his desk and told me he forgot to take it home. I quietly told him I wouldn't tell the teacher and asked him to put it away.
The third day I decided to compliment Robert. My mind was already telling me this was going to be hard. Before I even got a chance, Robert asked if I would like to have the treat the teacher had placed on his desk. She had put one on everyone's desk. I was really impressed by his kindness. We had a good day with each other that day.
The fourth day I gave Robert a compliment. It wasn't difficult at all. I told him his cursive writing was really good. He immediately responded by saying, "No, it's not." When I tried to convince him I really meant it, he just kept saying, "No, it's not." The funny thing is, his writing really was good. Later that day, the teacher had us correct a test differently than we usually did. Robert wasn't listening and did it wrong. When I showed him how he needed to do it, he got really down on himself and said, "I'm so stupid, really, really stupid." It was that day I realized how much Robert did not like himself. I also started to understand how tough it must be when you feel you're doing things wrong a lot, and you can't even feel good about the things you do well, like Robert and his writing.
The fifth day I began to see a change in myself. I was actually feeling okay about Robert and liked sitting next to him. I started realizing that he wasn't such a pest after all. He was also a lot smarter than I had ever realized. I only wish he knew it too. I tried to talk with him like I do with my friends—just little things. I also tried to compliment him on his drawing. This time he didn't say anything. At least he didn't say, "No, it's not."
As the days moved into weeks and weeks into months, both Robert and I continued to change and a friendship grew. I learned a lot that year in school. Most of all I learned that everyone has prejudices they have to face, deal with and overcome, even kids. Prejudices are actually just expressions of our own fears, and a true peacemaker faces his fears and finds a way to make lemonade out of lemons. Only then can he really make a difference!
Zach Pesavento, age 11 SSBC of San Diego, CA
(article from SAI WORLD, spring 2003)