A Childhood Lesson, a Lesson for Life by Rania Bennaceur, Tunisia

I was only 6 years old when this happened, and it was the meanest thing I have ever done to a person. I carry its impact with me everyday, and sometimes I wonder if the other person still remembers my face and the hurting I caused. Sometimes, I wish she forgets all about me because I can’t stand the idea of causing any trouble. This event probably changed my perception of life and made me aware of things early. The sense of awareness I acquired, being an outcome or an effect of a shock, was very precocious and forged my adult life.

It was in the primary school in Gafsa, a city in Tunisia where I was born. All the neighborhood children used to study there. I was one of the best pupils, getting the best averages, and was the fastest runner in my class. Life was good at that age because I knew no evil. I was in my second year. That year, a new girl joined us whom I didn’t know before. Her name was Mona. Mona was a bit mentally-disabled, violent, and rebellious. I never thought of approaching her because I was afraid of violence in general. I would always avoid being bullied. It was thanks to this incident that I learned that bullying could take different forms: It is not necessarily physical. Running away from physical bullying, I became the verbal bully. And this is how it happened:

It was during the break that a classmate came to me jokingly asking if I knew what not having a mother meant. I had never heard about death before, all my family was still alive, even two of my great-grandparents were still alive, and it was only until I was 19 years old that I faced the loss of a dear person when my grandfather left us. It was only then that I really understood what death was. So as a kid, I didn’t know what orphans were. We never talked about orphans and death in my family, or we might have had, but I never understood it. I was totally ignorant on the matter.

When Jamila , my classmate, told me to go and tell those words to Mona, and hearing her joking tone saying those words , I went and did it…  innocently. I remember  Mona,  it was the first time I saw pain in another person’s eyes. She started crying immediately. I did not know what went wrong or if I had said anything wrong, but I knew I had to run somewhere to hide. It seemed as if I made a mistake but I didn’t know what it was. I remember how frightened I was. There was something bad happening and I didn’t know what it was. I saw her friends rushing to the teachers and the poor girl broke into tears. I hid in the restroom and closed the door, yet other pupils were knocking on the door looking for me. Luckily enough, the teachers were aware of what happened and intervened. I don’t remember being punished or anything at all. I just remember the rushing fear and the urgent need to hide.

That day, my parents explained the whole thing to me, and I felt terribly sorry for the girl.I really hope she has forgotten all about me. Of course such wounds cannot be easily healed, if ever healed. But this incident that happened at a very early stage of my life made me gain a few years of maturity. It made me understand and accept the differences in other people. It is because of this very story that I decided to to be good to people. It is also because of this story that I have decided not to speak about things I don’t understand until I’m fully aware of them. It made me more tolerant as it opened my eyes to new possibilities of people’s lives, of other’s sufferings, of other life issues that people go through and of which we know nothing. Today, I want to be nice.

I am tolerant, accepting, comprehensive, empathetic and open-minded because of the meanest thing I have ever done. Accepting that other people are different, and putting myself in their shoes has changed my whole perception of things.  I simply stopped judging people and learned to feel their pain, to know about their history, and to accept them just as they are. I do strongly believe today that regardless of a person’s smile, they can hide a deep scar which we should know about, or at least respect. I learned that everything is relative, in the sense that a different standpoint of mine doesn’t mean it is mistaken, nor is mine. It just means that we have different paths and pasts which need to be respected.

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