This story was inspired by a really nice post by my friend IB on being mean, enabling and personal responsibility. Head over and read that post here.
One time, many years ago(in 1st grade to be precise,) I was taught an object lesson on personal responsibility that has stayed with me and shaped me for some 50 years. This lesson happened at Meadowcliff Elementary School in Little Rock, Arkansas around 1967 or 1968 roughly. The teacher involved will just be called “Teacher,” for this story. Teacher passed some years back I imagine, as she was probably 40 or so at the time this happened; the way things have gone in this world, they would probably arrest her grandchildren over this incident, so all names have been changed to protect the quite seriously innocent.
That morning I did what I did every morning. I walked out of my front door, at the age of barely six years old and walked the 10 blocks to school all alone and unsupervised. Upon arrival at our big, asphalt-covered playground, I played on jungle gym equipment made out of actual, hard steel. As I have said, things were a bit different then. At our little school, there was a driveway with two posts on the sides and a heavy chain strung across to keep folks from driving onto our asphalt covered playground. All I can say is the temptation for a young boy was too much to bear, and I ran over, sat on the chain with my legs in the air and rocked back and forth. In 1968 boys did such things with abandon. Obviously, this was a stupid idea, even in that day. Teacher told me so: “Wally! Don’t do that, you are gonna fall off!.” Like any self-respecting boy, I ignored her. “Wally! Don’t do that, you are gonna bust your head!” Of course, I ignored Teacher again.
It was on the third warning that things went haywire. Naturally, that time when I looked at Teacher as she yelled, I immediately flipped backward and conked my head on that asphalt covered playground. Teacher came over to have her way with me, and as she clutched me by the shoulders to chat I reached back to feel my head, and my little hand came back covered in blood. Then I did what any self-respecting, bloody boy would do; I let rip a banshee yell that was probably heard in three counties.
Teacher did NOT comfort me. Teacher SLAPPED me! Right in the face. Then she said words I have never forgotten: “WALLY FRY! You quite crying like a baby and hush it! YOU did this, and you got exactly what you had coming!” I shut up post haste. Once I was silent, she pulled out a handkerchief, put it on my head, hugged me and took me to the nurse.
I never forgot that lesson, ever. What was the lesson? If you do something stupid, you pay a price, and folks may or not protect you from paying it. I also learned that the ones who love you will also help you get back on your feet, even if they let you screw up and pay for it.
Seems we could use a bit of that today to me.