On Being A Bad Person

Lesson 2/2. Making the best of a bad job


From when I was very young I knew I was a bad person.  Not seriously wicked, but definitely willing to resort to low cunning.

When I started school, I used to travel on a tram, by myself. (These were more trusting times, when little children frequently went to school on their own).  For this I was given my tram fare.  I worked out that it was possible to walk home, cutting through various back street short cuts, thus saving enough money to buy a weekly copy of The Beano, a corrupting publication my parents had vetoed.

I even selected a back street newsagent on the route, one that my mother would never visit, so that my deception would go undiscovered.

Later on I made good use of an undated doctor’s note to be excused games.  This enabled me to escape the sports field for two winters and avoid being frozen to the bone by the merciless wind straight off the North Sea.

Thus I recognised early in life that I would never make it as a good person.  I could never emulate my contemporaries who worked diligently and consistently to achieve their success. I needed guile and good luck to get there.

I couldn’t understand people who wept because they didn’t make an A grade.  I was just grateful to scrape by!

But over time I discovered that being a bad person has its rewards.  It makes you less ready to judge others. I might have plenty of opinions and be only too willing to air them, but I could never be secure enough to feel superior about the weaknesses of others.

Being a less than perfect person also gives you a healthy appreciation of luck, good and bad. Over the years this can help avoid fruitless heart-searching. You did what you could at the time, but you were dealt a bad hand.  Sometimes luck goes against you.

This doesn’t stop you feeling sorry or guilty when you mess up, but it does make it easier to accept that sometimes things just go wrong.

And when they do, you make the best of a bad job.

Lesson 38 – Listening to the Quiet Voice

Lesson 38 on What Danielle Taught Me

Teaching is a noisy job.  It’s not just the clamour of corridors filled with voices and the clatter of many feet, it’s the conflicting demands of all sorts of activities and duties that create a kind of mental noise that won’t leave your head.  You always know there is something you have left undone.

It is so easy to lose sight of what matters.

Danielle was a frail, sad, quiet girl who had started off her education in the School for Delicate Children.  When I first met her, the phrase “Failure to thrive” jumped unbidden into my mind.  She just seemed somehow blighted.

It was hard to know how best to encourage her.  She hated any attention being drawn to her, and seldom answered in class, but she followed carefully whatever was going on.  She didn’t interact with the others, but she didn’t upset anybody either.  The group just accepted she preferred to keep her own counsel and in the end I simply fell in with that. With regard to written work, she jogged along in the slow lane, but she listened and thought about things.  I always felt she understood.

If anything, I saw her as a failure on my part.   She didn’t make dramatic progress, though she didn’t regress either. She was just a quiet presence on the edge of things.

It came as a complete surprise therefore to receive this hand written note from Danielle’s Mum when I was leaving.

“Dear Mrs Wise,  We will always be so grateful for what you have done with Danielle.  It has meant so much to her.  You cannot believe what a difference it has made.”

I was pulled up short by this.  I felt so ashamed.  What on earth had I ever done for Danielle in all the time I had taught her?

All I could think of was this – I had provided a small place in the confusing, noisy world of school where she felt safe and where her right to be quiet and thoughtful had been respected.

I had simply been kind and tried to do my best for her.

Danielle taught me what a privilege it is to be in a position to make a difference.

And she reminded me what really matters.