Justice and Bullying

on the seat of justice

In a bit of a rage, a teacher brought a kindergartner to my office saying, “Francis has been disrespectful to me, but I don’t have time to deal with it now. I have to get back out to the playground.”

The chair in which the head of a school sits is the seat of Justice. The head of a school, like the head of any community, is responsible for Justice. Actually, Justice is perhaps his most important responsibility. If the people don’t feel that Justice is on the throne, morale is bad.

Two kindergartners are sent to your office for fighting each one blaming the fight on the other. A fifth grader comes to your office to complain that a classmate is picking on him. A father comes in to complain that a first grade boy is bullying his daughter. A teacher reports seeing three eighth grade girls bullying a sixth grade boy. A girl accuses a fifth grade boy of cyber bullying. A teacher sends a kindergartner to you for being disrespectful.

Justice among adults can be even trickier. Teachers can be mean to each other in all sorts of subtle ways for all sorts of reasons. Parents can bully teachers, blaming them for their children’s “substandard” academic performance. Sometimes, it is the teacher’s fault—sort of. Between 1974 and 2010 I was tested in the justice department daily, sometimes multiple times a day.

Justice must be done, and yet, thousands of incidents taught me that being the voice of Justice is actually impossible. Being responsible for Justice is as impossible as being the arbiter of Beauty, or the validator of Truth, or the font of Love. Although you are responsible for Justice, you are incapable of doing Justice.

Yet, knowing this is small comfort. Just because you do not have the power, does not absolve you of the responsibility.

Solomon is famous for showing how it’s done, as when confronted with two women each claiming that the baby was theirs. Incapable of doing the just thing, Solomon commanded that the baby be cut in half. This triggered motherly love, which revealed the truth, which led to justice.

If you can’t find Justice, perhaps you can count on Love to reveal Truth, and then, perhaps Truth will lead to the justice of knowing who should get the baby, and then you will have contributed to the creation of a moment of Beauty. Justice is one facet of the diamond of the soul.

Learning that Justice, Truth, Love and Beauty are different facets of a multi-faceted soul is something that children taught me, not something I learned from adults.

When Francis started talking about the incident on the playground, his first reaction was that it wasn’t fair, that the teacher was being mean to him, and that he hadn’t done anything wrong.

When I said, “Tell me what you did?” he answered, “I said you’re a homo.”

I didn’t say, “Do you know what that means?” We didn’t have a talk about gender or sex or diversity or a person’s right to her own sexuality. I didn’t try to teach him empathy or social responsibility or morality. I didn’t try to teach him anything. More importantly, I certainly didn’t have to teach him right from wrong. I simply asked, “Was that kind?”

As soon as the word “kind” was out of my mouth, he hung his head and with a sad look on his face said, “No.”

I didn’t then ask him “Why,” or ask him to talk about his feelings, or tell him to tell me his side of the story. I didn’t start talking about consequences or punishment. I asked, “Well, what do you think you should do about it?”

Parenting4Tomorrow_ The Wonderful World of Toddlers-1“Say, ‘Sorry?”

“Well that would be a good start, but do you think that would fix it?”

Hanging head, again, he softly said, “No.”

“Well, what can you do to fix it?”

“I don’t know.”

“May I give you a suggestion?”

“Yes,” he said.

“Tell her you are sorry, and ask her what you can do to get your relationship back on track.”

Sitting up straight and brightening up for the first time, Francis said, “Okay,” and left for the playground.

Later that day the teacher reported that he did, in fact, fix the problem and that their relationship was back on track. Justice had been done.

To stop bullying justice must be done, but the way to doing justice isn’t always clear.

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6 Responses to Justice and Bullying

  1. Rick, this was a pleasure to read. Elegant, informative, touching and true. I am grateful for your voice out here in the blogosphere.

  2. Absolutely the best way to handle it. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Rick says:

    Thank you, both. Ah, Elegant, informative, touching and true–Always wanted something I did to get that accolade. 🙂

  4. chris says:

    Rick, enjoyed this post. The facets part was interesting and your response was very impressive. I wish I had that aplomb. -Chris

  5. Jill Iscol says:

    This is a terrific example of how to handle situations which require wisdom above all else. Fortunately for Francis he had you as the arbiter and ended up in control of his own actions rather than shamed. Wile reading this, I also thought, what a great way to deal with adults as well as children in conflict situations.
    Many thanks.

  6. Rick says:

    Yes, thank you, both. You can “give them a consequence” or require that they take responsibility and learn. You can’t do both at the same time.

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