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by Scott Dannemiller

My son started kindergarten five days ago. The first of our two kids to go to school. It was a bittersweet day. We were excited for all of the adventures that he would be having, yet a little sad to see our babygrowing up.

Who would have thought that anger would soon follow.

Today, when he walked in the door, I asked, “Jake. How was your school day?”

“It was good,” he said, throwing his new red backpack on the floor. “I got a smiley face.”

“Good for you, buddy!” I praised. “How did everybody else do?”

This was my subtle way of finding out who the troublemakers are, so I could have Jake steer clear of them, and thus, avoid a future of prison time and work-release programs.

“William got a sad face.”

“Really? What did William do to get the sad face?” I was hoping for some good gossip. Instead, I got something I hadn’t bargained for.

Jake’s face slowly morphed into sadness. The bottom lip curled downward. Eyes welling up.

“He stole one of my green beans and ate it. Then he threw my chicken finger on the ground. I told him to stop bothering me, and he didn’t. So then I did like you always said, I gave him another chance. I asked him to stop again, or I’d tell Ms. Pilkinton. Well he told me if I told Ms. Pilkinton, then he was going to hit me.”

“What did you do?”

“I moved away from him, but he moved closer to me.”

“Then what did you do?”

“Nothing, Daddy.”

I instantly felt angry. Very angry. Who in the heck did William think he was?! And this is coming from a guy who has never been in a single fight in his life. I wanted to give William a giant wedgie and shove him in a tiny locker. Better yet, I wanted to demonstrate to Jake how to deliver an atomic wedgie all on his own.

Teach a man to fish, right?

I wanted my son to defend himself. I wanted this kid to get a good old-fashioned punch in the mouth. But I didn’t speak this out loud. Instead, I told my son that he had done the right thing, and that William was a bully, and bullies tend to pick on people because they are sad, and they want to make themselves feel better by putting others down. I told him that one day, William would pick on the wrong guy, and find himself in a world of hurt.

Later, at dinner, Jake relayed the story of the chicken finger injustice to my wife. She asked,

“So how do you feel about that?”

Jake replied, “William is a bully.”

My wife countered, “Well Jake, his behavior was not right, but we probably shouldn’t call names. We don’t know what causes people to do the things they do, but we should try our hardest to love them. His heart may be a good heart, so you just need to try and be his friend. Say, ‘William, I would like to be your friend, but it’s really hard to like you when you treat me mean. So, if you want a friend, let’s figure out how to make this work.’ If he continues to treat you poorly, then you know he’s not the kind of friend you want to have anyway, but we should love him first, before we make that decision.”

Funny how those lessons of mission and ministry stick with you. And funny how I can still learn them all over again. Every day. Whether in politics or on the playground.

Only love can truly cure injustice.

Lesson learned.