by Duen Hsi Yen
I wrote this story in remembrance of an experience that took place in
1995. The story is true, but the names have been changed.
While substitute teaching a second-grade class in Hawaii, two girls came
up to me, and told me that a boy in their class was bothering them. I told
them that if they could not settle the dispute between themselves, I could
"mediate" the conflict. Just before lunch, they again approached
me, saying they wanted me to "mediate" the dispute and I said
I would do so right after lunch. I'm sure they were wondering what "mediation"
was, and they certainly wanted whatever that was to be done for them.
So, just after lunch, the three involved parties came over to my desk. In
this classroom, all the chairs are small and low, even the teacher's. I
found this eminently suitable for the task at hand, because, as is necessary
in all forms of conflict resolution, all parties need to feel they are at
an equal level, including myself. I don't want to be sitting in judgment,
but rather be perceived as a facilitator. So the four of us were sitting
there, and I asked, "Who wants to begin first?"
"Kimo wen' broke my pen." Alice said almost immediately, and anger
was clearly evident in the tone of her voice. Her arms were folded around
her chest, and a grimace crossed her face. Alice was a real tough girl.
I had watched her play kickball on the playground, and she had all the determination
and fierceness of a real warrior.
Andrea chimed in, "An' he push me."
So I paraphrased, and said "We have a broken pen and perhaps a small
fight. OK, and Kimo, I'd like to hear your side of the story." Kimo,
at this point, looked most discouraged.
He was a tiny boy, and I was in a position to see that his eyes were moist
with distress. He sat askance on his small chair, his arms draped over the
back, looking down and avoiding all eye contact. I gently asked Kimo if
he had anything to say. He continued to sit there in the most forlorn manner.
Because he did not say anything, I asked him to turn, so that the two girls
could see him more clearly, and said to the girls, "Kimo wants to say
something, but not right now."
Then I instructed both of the girls to look into Kimo's eyes, and similarly,
for Kimo to look into the girls' eyes. A cautious glance was made, and then
I asked them what they saw. There was silence.
"To me, I can see that Kimo feels hurt. Indeed, he looks to me that
he is suffering
quite a bit." As if on cue, a big teardrop drained out of Kimo's eye.
At this point, I noticed that the girls' anger was softening, their arms
falling to their sides.
Kimo, becoming a little more confident, was able, through his tears and
hurt, to get a bit of anger and resentment off his chest and out into the
open, saying, " an' they were teasing me an' calling me dumb."
So that's why he took their pen and pulled it apart, I surmised. I said
aloud, "I see we not only have a broken pen, but also some teasing."
In defense, Andrea then said, "I fixed the pen, so it isn't broke no
At this point, I summarized my observations, "What I see happening
here, is that two girls and a boy are fighting, and the result is that we
have some anger, and at least, it seems to me, that Kimo feels and displays
the most hurt."
I then gave a small talk, "Not only do children fight, but adults also
fight, and let me tell you, they really know how to hurt! In fact, they
even organize together and start wars, and you know the rest. You've seen
it on TV. There is a lot of anger, fighting and hurt in this world, because
the adults have not learned how to resolve their conflicts. However, I will
demonstrate to you what I know about how to avoid conflicts, and make things
better. You are in second grade, and this is a perfect time to learn about
this." I paused to allow this to sink in. Then I deployed some encouraging
words, "You are such precious children! So very very precious to
me, and I feel a great deal of pain myself to see you fight. Look into my
eyes. Can you also see that there are tears that want to come out too? So,
this is what I suggest, that we don't blame each other further, and instead,
forgive and say we're sorry to each other, and become friends. How's that
sound?" I received nods of approval.
"Ok, so this is how we do it, and I will say it first, and then you
imitate. So, let's start with you, Alice. You say, 'I'm sorry, Kimo that
I hurt you. I feel very bad. Please forgive me.' Ok, now you try."
And Alice said in the most unexpectedly tender way I have ever witnessed,
"Kimo, I am so sorry that I hurt you."
At this point, she had a look of such care and remorsefulness,
entirely incongruous with the scrappy youngster I had witnessed just minutes
before on the playground at recess.
I further prompted her, "And"
"An', please forgive me."
"Good" I said. "Now Kimo, it is your turn." After waiting
a few moments, I turned toward the girls and said, "I can see that
Kimo is still too choked up to say anything, so I will speak for Kimo again.
`I'm also very sorry that I hurt you, and I forgive you.'"
"It's Andrea's turn now" So prompted, she says, "I'm sorry
Kimo" and she went up to him, and put her arms around him. "Please
forgive me." This brought tears to all of our eyes.
And I said, "I will again speak for Kimo. Kimo says that he forgives
you both and is very sorry he hurt you, and asks for your forgiveness."
Then I added, "OK, now I want all of you to shake hands, and when you
shake hands, everything is forgiven, and you will all become great friends.
The three shook hands. "And I know we all believe in sharing, and helping
each other." Everyone indicates yes.
I then sent the three of them back to their seats, still sniffling. When
they got back to their seats and sat down, I could see a torrent of tears
now flowing from each mediated child. The remorse these children felt must
have been overwhelming. I decided to wait a little while, because I wanted
to give them some time to process things. But then other children started
to flutter and crowd around each of the mediated children and I could hear
them asking what was wrong, paying the utmost attention to each of them
with their big eyes. This only seemed to make matters worse, in that the
three sobbed even more, but what happened next really surprised me. The
children in closest proximity to the ones I had done the mediation session
with, spontaneously started to cry, even though none of them knew what had
happened. Like an especially virulent virus, the contagion swept throughout
the room, and within a minute, nearly three-fourths of the class was crying!
Then the children who were not crying, came running up to me asking "What's
wrong? Why is everyone crying?" I was not sure what was happening,
but it seemed like the cases of mass hysteria I have read about.
I became alarmed, because I was wondering to myself, what if someone else
walked into my classroom at that moment? What would they think? That I was
somehow abusing them? I told the children who were asking me about the situation,
"They are crying because they got too much love." Then I said
to the whole class in a loud voice "Everyone stop crying!" and
like the momentary ray of illuminating
light piercing the clouds on an otherwise overcast sky, it was all over.
Last revised 1 June 1999
1999 by Duen
Hsi Yen, All rights reserved.
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