A mother hears her daughter badmouthing someone and worries that she is a bully. Later she finds out that her daughter is texting her friends about the same boy. She is saying unkind things and seems to take pleasure in putting him down.
The mother knows that her daughter is a good person and tries to find a way to teach her about the damage that she is doing. She wants her to understand the effect that her words will have on the boy so that she will stop being a bully. She wants her to understand that words cannot be taken back. She wants to teach her daughter empathy and how it would feel if someone did that to her.
She has an idea. She tells her daughter to hammer a nail in the fence behind their house every time she says something unkind about the boy. At first, the daughter seems excited at the prospect of hammering nails and gossiping. After a few days, the mother looks out of the window and sees that her daughter has hammered a lot of nails into the fence.
She doesn’t appear to be as excited to be hammering nails as she was on the first day. For the next few days, the mother watches her daughter and sees that she is hammering fewer and fewer nails into the fence. She says nothing.
After a few days, the daughter comes to her mother and says that hammering the nails isn’t as much fun anymore. She says that she had stopped saying unkind things about the boy and being a bully. (Little did she know that the boy is on the other side of the fence. His heart is hurting. He doesn’t understand what he had done to make her want to bully him by saying such unkind things about him.)
Bully: Mother Teaches Empathy
The mother waits a while and then asks her daughter how she would feel if someone had said the same things about her that she had said about the boy. Her daughter answers, “I guess I would feel bad.” The mother then asks her to write down the things she had said about the boy. Unhappily, the daughter begins her task by trying to remember all the things she had said. When she writes them down on paper, they seem far worse than when she had said them. They seemed mean.
The mother says, “The problem with unkind words is that they can never be taken back. Even if the person forgives you, the pain of what you said remains in the person’s heart.” Her daughter understands but the mother isn’t finished. “Now, you need to go out to the fence and remove all of the nails you hammered into it. Remember that each nail represents an unkind word that you said about the boy. The daughter goes out and begins to remove the nails.
As she removes each nail and looks at the holes in the fence, she begins to understand. When she had removed all the nails and sees all the holes, she feels sad. The fence looks terrible and she thinks about how terrible the boy must feel since she had said so many unkind things about him.
She walks closer to the fence and then she sees something through the holes. She sees the boy she had been spreading rumors about. She sees how sad he looks and she feels terrible. She realizes that she had destroyed the fence and broke his heart. She thinks about her mom’s words, “The problem with unkind words is that they can never be taken back. Even if the person forgives you, the pain of what you said remains in the person’s heart.” She knows she can’t fix the holes in the fence but she has another idea.
She walks over to the other side of the fence where the boy is standing. She sees him looking at the holes. She wonders how she could have been so unkind. Really, what had he done to her? She calls to him. I am so sorry. I was mean and I feel terrible. It was then that she sees the tears in his eyes. “That’s okay,” he says. “I forgive you but I don’t understand what I did to make you want to hurt me so much.” She answers, “You were just being you and I couldn’t accept anyone who acted different from me. I was wrong to hurt you and I am sorry. How can I make it up to you?” He looks at her and says, “Maybe you could tell everyone that I’m not so bad after all.”
“I’ll do better than that. I am going to have a party just for you and invite my friends and your friends too. That way everyone will know that I was wrong and you forgive me. Maybe that way, we can put all of this behind us. What do you think? The boy answers, “I’m not sure. Maybe after a while, I would like that but not right now. Thanks anyway.”
With tears in her eyes, the daughter goes home to tell her mother what happened. “I tried to make it up to him but it didn’t work,” she says.
Her mother looks at her with great pride and understanding. “You made a mistake. You hurt someone when you talked behind his back in an unkind way. You apologized and admitted you were wrong. That took strength. You learned so many lessons this week. You learned that your actions do affect other people and that you must be careful of what you say and do. You learned that everything isn’t just about you.
You learned about compassion and empathy. Now you will be compassionate and empathize with others because you have learned how to walk in the other person’s shoes. You learned that you won’t build yourself up by tearing someone else down. And you learned that what you say about others doesn’t define them, it defines you. That’s a lot to learn in a few days. I am so very proud of you. Don’t be afraid to reach out to the boy again. Maybe the next time, he will want to be your friend.”