The Kindness Cure

The Kindness Cure

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Be The Best You Can Be

The Kindness Cure

If you can, help others; if you cannot do that, at least do not harm them.

~Randy Rind

“Hey!” the voice called from behind me. “Are you a girl or a duck?” I ignored the comment even though I knew it was directed at me.

I ran to my class, causing my slight limp to become even more apparent. I didn’t care. I just wanted to get away from the group of mean girls behind me. It was my first day at a new school and I was still trying to learn how to find my class. I wasn’t prepared to handle this type of treatment also.

Already, I could see that things would be different here. At my old school, I had a group of friends to protect me. If those friends had been there, I just knew they’d be yelling back, “Hey! Leave her alone!” I could actually see Maryann and Elisa waving their fists at the name-callers and howling their warning, “Or else!”

Yet starting today, in this new school, I was on my own. I took my place in the first row of desks, grateful for alphabetic seating. My last name came at the beginning of the alphabet and the mean girl Betsy’s last name came at the end of the alphabet. That put a full five rows between us.

By the time lunch hour arrived, I was feeling better about my situation. Betsy and her group had been quiet during class and polite when speaking to the teacher. Surely, they had calmed down and wouldn’t be repeating their behavior. Or so I thought. The minute I walked into the hallway, I felt a hand at my back. It was Betsy.

“I don’t like being ignored,” she said. “I asked you a question before and I expect you to answer it.”

“Yeah,” chimed her chorus of friends, “answer it.”

I looked at her, “What question?” “Are you a girl or a duck?”

“I’m a girl.”

“Then why do you walk like a duck?”

I felt my face redden. “I don’t walk like a duck,” I insisted.

“Yes you do,” Betsy smirked.

“Quack, quack.” “Quack, quack, quack,” sang her chorus. Then they all broke into fits of laughter and went off to take their seats for lunch. I, however, went to the far end of the cafeteria and ate my lunch alone and in silence. Was this how I would spend the rest of my school days?

As the weeks went on, though, I made friends with two girls named Fran and Lisa who sat near me in class. They didn’t seem too thrilled with Betsy either and whenever she made one of her snarky remarks they would wave it off and tell me to ignore her. Eventually, I also gained skill in avoiding Betsy and her group of crazy quackers. I didn’t linger in the hallway before and after class and I went directly home at dismissal time.

Still, I hated that I didn’t walk like everyone else. I didn’t like not being able to run as fast or as straight as the other kids and I didn’t like getting picked last for teams in gym class. Mostly, though, I really hated it when people like Betsy made dumb remarks about how I walked. Yet I learned to live with it until one day the game changed.

“Class,” our teacher addressed us one morning, “you’ve been in the same seats for a full semester and you’ve become friendly with the students around you. Now it’s time to change seats and make some new friends.”

The class let out a collective moan, yet our teacher would not be dissuaded. As she assigned the new seating, Fran, Lisa, and I looked at each other while we waited for our names to be called. We didn’t want to be separated. And we especially didn’t want to sit anywhere near Betsy.

Fran and Lisa’s names were called first. Though they weren’t sitting right next to each other, they were sitting close. Then my name was called. I took my seat. Then Betsy’s name was called. She took her seat — directly behind me.

I knew this wasn’t going to be good and I soon discovered I was right. For Betsy, her new seat assignment was like hitting the bully jackpot. I could practically hear her rubbing her hands together in delight. She was as close to her target as she could get and she didn’t waste any time getting to work. The torment started within minutes. Betsy leaned into my back: “Quack, quack.” When I ignored her, she kicked my seat. When that didn’t work, she poked me. This went on daily until one morning I simply refused to go to school.

My mother sat me down after I told her the details of my harsh treatment. “Look,” she said, “there will always be mean people in this world. That will never change. But you can change the way you handle them. Did you ever hear of the saying ‘Kill ’em with kindness’?”

I shook my head, no.

“It’s simple. Just give Betsy a compliment from time to time. If she drops her pen, pick it up and hand it to her. Things like that. Just be so nice to her that it takes the fun out of teasing you.”

I was doubtful, but I was also desperate. Even though Mom’s “kill ’em with kindness” idea didn’t seem logical to me, I was still willing to give it a try. After I took my seat that morning, I turned toward Betsy. Her hair was a mess. She was wearing a pair of old jeans and the same worn pink and purple shirt she wore every Monday morning. How could I possibly compliment her?

“Betsy,” I squeaked, “did I ever tell you how much I like that shirt? Those colors are my favorites.”

She looked back at me blank-eyed, “Uh, thanks.”

Maybe my mother was on to something because Betsy only quacked once and poked me twice that morning. My new tack seemed to be working and I kept at it. Instead of rushing out of class on Friday afternoons, I began to wish her a good weekend. On Monday mornings, I’d ask her if she’d done anything special on Saturday and Sunday. She usually would only answer with a mumble, but I did notice she was being less mean to me and some Fridays she would even wish me a good weekend first. It almost seemed as though Betsy was starting to like me.

Then one day I really had the chance to shine. Our teacher was in a pretty serious mood that day. Spring break had passed and most of the students were starting to forget about schoolwork and think about summer vacation. Grades were down and homework assignments were late. In an effort to get us back on track, the teacher began to quiz us with questions from our studies throughout the year. She sat at her desk, asking questions at lightning speed and expecting fast replies. Whenever a student would give an incorrect answer, she would remark, “Wrong!” and move on to the next student.

When my turn came, I answered quickly and correctly. Then it was Betsy’s turn. “What year did Columbus discover America?” the teacher asked.

I stood still, sensing Betsy’s terror. I knew she couldn’t possibly remember the answer. The day we learned that lesson, Betsy had been too busy jabbing me to have heard anything the teacher said. But I knew the answer. And I wrote it down on a piece of paper and slipped it over the side of my desk where the teacher couldn’t see.

Startled, Betsy looked down. “1492!” she answered in triumph.

I had saved the day.

In the days that followed, something interesting happened. Betsy started to open up to me. Her parents were recently divorced and her dad was somewhere where she said she couldn’t visit him. Also, her mom had become ill and was awaiting surgery. I could see the pain in her pale blue eyes and, for a minute, I felt sorry for her. Betsy’s teasing soon stopped altogether.

On the last day of school, Betsy turned to me. “You’re really nice,” she said. “I don’t know why I was so mean to you.

But, by that time, I had figured out why she had been so cruel. She was so unhappy at home that she took out her frustrations at school — on me. However, when I was kind to her the teasing lost its appeal.

We parted that June day and I never did see Betsy again. Apparently, her mother’s illness was serious and she and her sister were sent to live with grandparents in another part of the state. While I hoped Betsy found happiness there, I couldn’t say that I missed her. Honestly, part of me was glad that she was gone. But a bigger part of me was even gladder that I had listened to my mom and turned on the kindness. It was just what I needed. And probably just what Betsy needed, too.

~Monica A. Andermann

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