It may not have been the worst thing I ever did, but I regretted it the longest.
I was one of those kids who felt picked on in school (boo hoo hoo). Nerdy, teacher’s pet, clumsy at sports, I certainly provided no shortage of targets for the slings and arrows of outrageous juveniles. But at least there was always Peggy Prouty* who was overweight and even lower on the playground pecking order.
Most of my recesses were spent reading in a garden near the school office windows. Peggy hid there, too. We never spoke, never acknowledged each other’s pariah existence.
One day the queen bees swarmed through. They started in on me first. Then they spotted Peggy, and the chanting began. “Piggy Prouty! Piggy, piggy, piggy Prouty!” She kept reading, pretending to take no notice of the she-devils dancing three feet away.
I couldn’t believe it then – still can hardly believe it now – but I heard my own voice rise with theirs: “Piggy Prouty! Piggy, piggy, piggy Prouty!”
For 35 years, those ten seconds haunted me. If I could have undone any event in my life, it would have been that one.
Being the good little Mormon girl with regular classes on repentance, I did what I could to erase the thing. I recognized I had done wrong; I certainly felt remorse; I did not repeat that sin or anything quite like it; I couldn’t ask for Peggy’s forgiveness after we had moved to another state, so I prayed for God’s forgiveness. But I didn’t feel better about it, and the memory came back to trouble me, over and over again.
We most often discuss the Atonement in connection with repentance, in terms of justice and mercy: We sin; we repent; Christ in his mercy pays the price of our sin; justice is appeased. Justice is something to be feared, to escape through appealing to Christ. But so what if God extended mercy to me for what I had done? Peggy had been hurt, and my being forgiven didn’t bring justice to her; my forgiveness seemed only to add insult to her injury.
But that isn’t the full story, I eventually learned. Christ “comprehended all things” (D&C 88:6), he knows the pain that comes to his people in mortality: “he will take upon him their infirmities … according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:12); and his Atonement covers not only our sins: “he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities,” but also our griefs and sorrows: “the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4-5).
Justice not only holds us accountable for our wrongs, it safeguards the blessings that would come to us but for the wrongs of which we are innocent. In the words of Elder Richard G. Scott at October conference, 2006, “The Redeemer can settle your individual account with justice … Through the Atonement you can live in a world where justice assures that you will retain what you earn by obedience.”
I don’t know how this can be – how Peggy Prouty can become what she would have been had not childhood bullying changed her in the way I know from experience it did change her; I don’t know how Christ will heal the life of a person spent in a barely functioning body, or with a crippled mind. I only know that somehow the Atonement will someday make whole the grief of a childless woman, and the father robbed of the opportunity to raise his children because of his ex-wife’s choices, and the innocent victims of wars and drunk drivers and playground bullies and poverty and malnutrition and natural disasters and violent criminals and drownings and fire and loneliness and unfulfilled dreams and talents with no chance for development. I don’t know how; I only trust it will be.
*Peggy’s name has been disguised to respect her privacy. If by some miracle you are reading this, Peggy, I do remember your real name. I am so sorry for what I did.
52 Comments »
Ardis, you’ve shown well why the Atonement boggles the mind.
Comment by Jim F. — 4/24/2007 @ 12:10 pm | Edit This
We have something in common. I felt like the playground pariah and almost everyone picked on me when I was growing up in a Utah town that was 98% Mormon. I wore a brace and I remember more than hurtful words; punches, kicks and being thrown down and my face being washed in dirty snow. I remember retaliating with further violence which made the problems worse. But I was too stupid to figure that out.
My first night at MIA, the older boys took some of us 7th grade boys up to the cemetery and their girlfriends painted our faces with lipstick. A rather obese girl flashed me with her breasts while sitting on me. The more popular boys got kissed and this one kid got his pants yanked down. It was so funny watching him hop around in an aroused state; I swear he was such a pervert that he actually enjoyed it. Suddenly his older brother showed up in his hot GTO about 2 minutes too late to prevent it and demanded to know who was responsible.
The boys acted dumb and the girls blamed it all on this one shy small cute girl, not really very popular, who had just come along to be part of the group. Like all of the others, I did not utter a single word to refute this ridiculous accusation and prevent her punishment. He chased the girl down and tore her shirt off tackling her. He threw her into the back seat of his car on top of his goon friends and drove away.
The neighbor kid assured me they were real bad characters and would gang rape her. But another older kid told us that she was one of his girlfriends and it was all part of an act to scare us. I watched this girl closely on the bus after that and she seemed to me to be exceedingly lonely and dying inside. Her parents were going through a divorce, but I assumed something horrible had been done to her that night. I was too backward to ever say a single word to her and I thought she was way above me on the social ladder anyway. But it ate at me until eventually I decided to take some revenge for her.
One morning I got that 9/16th wrench from the tool box and sluffed a class right before lunch and rode my bike through a snow storm to the high school. I crawled under the GTO and pulled the oil plug. I was so scared. I was certain after I did this evil deed that they would catch me and I would go to jail for the rest of my life. They came out and were racing the car around the parking lot when the engine seized up. His dad (who was a church leader and I thought he must have The Spirit of Disgression and would know what really happened) blamed his son for it.
Sometimes I feel guilty about doing that. But honestly, at other times, I do not regret it. Depending on how you weigh things, it might not have been the worst thing I did while growing up. It seems harder for me to feel guilty about doing evil things to people who deserved it and who continued to hurt me and many others for years after. I feel guilty for the few times I hurt the weak and afflicted. But when it is the strong and wicked…..
Let me get this part straight: It was a Jewish slave who was supposed to turn the other cheek and carry clothing an extra mile for a mighty Roman soldier. And pray for him too!
Comment by Mike — 4/24/2007 @ 12:53 pm | Edit This
Wow, Mike. Part of me wished I’d had the guts to do something when I was the one being picked on. But, wow.
My worst memory of being the smallest kid is from Jr High (surprise!). I was a seventh grader, walking home from school. Walking behind me were two older kids, probably ninth graders. For some reason, they thought it would be fun to spit loogies into my hair as we were walking. I don’t know what they expected me to do–turn around and try to fight them, cry and run away, or what. I didn’t give them the satisfaction. I ignored them until I turned down my street, and they got out of sight. Then I ran home.
Now I’m an adult, I don’t tolerate bullying on anyone’s part. Not if I can help it. But I still kind of fantasize about doing bodily or property damage to those two kids.
Comment by CS Eric — 4/24/2007 @ 1:38 pm | Edit This
Ha Ha. I was one of those kids too. I was going to do a post dealing a little bit with being picked on and some other stuff regarding the most recent wave of violence. I too dreamed of getting some revenge against those that hurt me. Mostly, I dreamed of doing something heroic that would gain me some respect. Hoever, I did do one thing I kind of regretted. There was a girl I used to like in Elementary school. She was \”going out\” with this kid who was a bully. To get revenge, I wrote a letter to her and signed it with his name. Saying that he wanted to break up with her. I put the note under her desk during recess. I had to stay in because I didn\’t do my homework (again!). Immediately after I put it under her desk, I felt sick to the stomach. Partially because I thought I was going to get in trouble, well, mostly because I thought I was going to get into trouble. I\’m sure there was guilt in there somewhere. I for the next week I was sick because of it. I even puked a few times. I missed like 4-5 days of school. When I finally came back to school, I was nervous that I was going to get in trouble, but no one ever figured out that It was me. On top of that, they had broke up. Of course I never did talk to her. And you know what, I found out a couple of years ago that the girl of my elementary school dreams is a Lesbian anyway. Who would have guessed!
Anyway, I encourage you to try and find this girl that you made fun of and apologize to her. She probably doesn\’t even remember the incident. I recently went to a class reunion and one of the kids who used to be a jerk actually came up and apologized to me. I nearly broke into tears, it really meant a lot to me. Another kid (the principals son) actually acted in a way that I knew he was trying to apologize as well. I was really suprised at their actions.
You can use a number of ways of finding people. Actually I think I\’ll blog about it. I have found many people that I used to know through the internet, though not everyone. I\’ve never spend a dime either. It only takes time.
Comment by Ian M. Cook — 4/24/2007 @ 2:09 pm | Edit This
CS Eric, remember the old saying about revenge: It is a dish best eaten cold! In my case I realized revenge from bullying not on an elementary school playground but at age 23 on an air base in south Texas during the height of the Cuban Missle Crisis. That night every B-52 and B-58 in SAC’s fleet was flown into the base to be rearmed and refueled for the anticipated strike on Cuba. Instead of being on the flight line I was in the midst of a 24-hour-dollop of KP under the watchful, harrassing tutlege of the most insufferable A/2C in the air force. Somewhere in the wee hours of the morning this jerk ordered me into a walk-in storage cooler to retrieve a 30-gallon vat of Kool-Aid from an upper shelf. I scrambled up onto the shelving as My Man stood below me — micromanaging and shouting. As I struggled gamely with the enormous vat, I knew that my opportunity had arrived. “Clumsily” I slipped and maneuvered the entire contents of the vat onto my tormentor. He was stunned and ran drenched back to the barracks for a new, Kool-Aid-free uniform — never to return…For this I suppose un-Christian deed, I have never suffered remorse. Br’er Rabbitt lives! Meanwhile the Cuban thing was cancelled.
Comment by Bill MacKinnon — 4/24/2007 @ 2:11 pm | Edit This
1. Do not be a bully yourself
2. Do not tolerate bullying
3. Tell a teacher or parent
4. Defend friends from bullys
5. If you are large and aggressive like me and my HS football friends be a part of the solution by standing up to bullies when encountered
Comment by BBELL — 4/24/2007 @ 2:18 pm | Edit This
Thanks, Ardis. Beautiful post.
Comment by Chad S. — 4/24/2007 @ 2:31 pm | Edit This
Ardis, thank you for this. Would you mind if I shared it to my Youth in Sunday School? I thinkit is so important for them to have this perspective.
Comment by Matt W. — 4/24/2007 @ 2:42 pm | Edit This
Ardis – a wonderful story and the analogy that followed. When I was a newlywed in college I made a comment to woman who was in my married student branch. It was meant to be a joke but years after college I realized that my smart alec joke was anything but and that I had most likely hurt that person. As the years went by and I had the opportunity to teach youth in Sunday School and YM, I would always relate that story and say that I needed to somehow contact that person and make an apology. It was an indication of an unresolved issue in my life. Finally, a few years ago I did just that. Thanks to the technology available to anybody, I was able to track down her and her husband (it’s really scary how easy it was). In a letter I related the incident and then ask for her forgiveness. It was almost a year before I heard back from her, but it didn’t matter because sending my letter was what lifted my burden. When she finally wrote back she was the one apologizing for her delayed response. Thankfully she told me that she hadn’t remembered the incident (I’m grateful that I was the only one who was negatively effected by it) but she forgave me just the same.
We haven’t kept in touch since that exchange and I suppose we never will. But I am grateful that through Atonement of the Savior and the instructions taught to me in church there was a process whereby I was able to life that burden from my life. Thanks again for your thoughtful post.
Comment by lamonte — 4/24/2007 @ 3:16 pm | Edit This
Sorry. That should read “…able to lift that burden from my life.”
Comment by lamonte — 4/24/2007 @ 3:19 pm | Edit This
An you may well guess, as reviled as I am, I’ve made countless people suffer as a result of my arrogant thoughtlessness and careless scorn. I’ve always just figured there’d be something like a fraternity-style gauntlet setup in the afterlife that I’d have to run through, and each of offended person would have a chance to beat me with a paddle. At this point, each additional person I add is but a small increase. I mean, what’s the difference between being hit with a stick (say) 21,232 times vs. 21,233 times? So: screw everybody!
Comment by DKL — 4/24/2007 @ 6:04 pm | Edit This
DKL, the difference is that I am the 21,233rd in line! Be afraid. Be very afraid.
I understand the desire for revenge and the glee of occasionally getting some, but I especially appreciate the comments of those who read this as a commentary on the Atonement.
Comment by Ardis Parshall — 4/24/2007 @ 6:25 pm | Edit This
There was a bully in the 4th grade who controlled everyone. She would call the girls to tell them what color to wear that day. (I was not on her call list.) One day, she told one of my classmates (Laurie) to twist the arm of another classmate (Barbara). Laurie asked why, and was told, “Just do it.” Laurie obeyed, twisted until Barbara cried. For the rest of the day Laurie kept very quiet, but told herself over and over, “I will never do anything like that again. No matter who tells me, I will never hurt anyone again.” She withdrew from any attempt to remain on the “call list,” became very shy, and never did hurt anyone again. (She told me this years later.) Eventually, she became a teacher at the school where this incident took place. She is a simply marvelous woman. I’ve often wondered what happened to the bully.
Comment by Margaret Young — 4/24/2007 @ 6:43 pm | Edit This
My dad tells a pretty compelling story about the chubby girl living down the street from him who would get brutally teased by all the neighbor kids every morning at the bus stop. He was the only one who didn\’t participate–not because he was such a nice little kid, but because my blessed grandmother threatened to thrash his hide if he did. The girl moved across town, and due to a tragic accident, was killed towards the end of her senior year. My dad attended the viewing with a clear conscience, but many of the other neighbor kids were really broken up about never being able to apologize for their bullying behavior.
Comment by Struwelpeter — 4/24/2007 @ 7:27 pm | Edit This
Ardis writes, “If I could have undone any event in my life, it would have been that one.”
I only wish that my biggest regret was bullying someone in fourth grade. I wasn’t much of a fourth-grade bully, but even if I were, I don’t think that fourth-grade bullying incidents would head my own “if I could undo” list; I really doubt it would crack the Top 100. I admire your ability to lead such a life that schoolyard bullying is your biggest regret; that’s quite an accomplishment.
One of the sad lessons I’ve learned (and re-learned, and re-learned . . . ) is that some things that we do can never be made better through our own efforts. And so we all rely on God’s grace, and on the Atonement. And through God’s love, all wrongs can ultimately be healed.
Comment by Kaimi Wenger — 4/24/2007 @ 8:11 pm | Edit This
This isn’t the grossest of my crimes, Kaimi, I assure you. Just the one that caused the most pain. :-/
Comment by Ardis Parshall — 4/24/2007 @ 8:18 pm | Edit This
Thank you for sharing this, Ardis.
Comment by m&m — 4/24/2007 @ 9:01 pm | Edit This
I never bullied anyone that I can remember. In fact, one of my clearest memories from childhood was picking two disabled kids to be on my basketball team because I didn’t want them to feel left out, only to have them resent me for it, since the fact that I chose both of them made it apparent that I was picking them primarily out of pity. But I have a diabetic daughter who has been the recipient of much bullying because of her disease, and she bears the ineradicable scars of that taunting–which affects her and our entire family every single, solitary day. And therein lies my biggest problem with the atonement. I would gladly suffer exquisitely for every sin I’ve ever committed rather than have all those mean-spirited and hateful people (all LDS, by the way, and no doubt at least one bishop-in-the-making among them) be routinely forgiven for what they’ve done to her without a second thought. If it would change her past, I’d hunt down and skin every one of them alive and gladly endure the eternal consequences in return. Our Church looks at sexual sins with zero tolerance. A mere glimpse at a Playboy requires an obligatory trip to the bishop. But bullying and careless remarks? Who cares? Certainly not most Church leaders, whose own kids are often among the worst offenders. It seems to me a much greater sin to act with deliberate hatefulness than in consequence of misdirected curiosity or affection. It’s all fine and good to talk about the comfort and peace that comes from repenting and forgiving others, but none of that high-minded sanctimoniousness heals the eternal wounds caused by hateful actions. And neither does a forgiving God, at least not that I’ve been able to see.
Comment by An angry parent — 4/24/2007 @ 9:07 pm | Edit This
Dear angry parent-
What a very sad story. Is there no one at all who is kind to your daughter?
Comment by C Jones — 4/24/2007 @ 9:23 pm | Edit This
Actually, a good many people are kind to her. Like the stake nurse who who with great concern reported to us us after Girl’s Camp was over that our ward young women’s leader told the other Girl’s Camp participants that our daughter was faking diabetes to get attention, and who had tried to prevent the nurse from checking on our daughter the night after she had been forced to remain behind (without food or water–a potentially life-threatening situation for a diabetic) while everyone else in camp had gone on the big hike. When we asked our bishop to investigate, he refused, saying that it’s too difficult to find a replacement young women’s leader, and that we should just forgive and forget. But for a child, one negative experience eclipses a hundred positive ones. And a hundred negative experiences, especially when they involve Church leaders to whom the child looks for spiritual guidance, . . . well there you have it.
Comment by An angry parent — 4/24/2007 @ 9:39 pm | Edit This
This seems really inexcusable to me. Ignorance of the seriousness of a medical condition, such as Type I diabetes is no excuse for this kind of behaviour. While I’m am normallly a very forgive-and-forget kind of person, I think I would have to make a complaint to the SP if your bishop refuses to do anything about this. At the very least, a conference with all parties involved needs to happen and profuse apologies from the YW leader needs to be made. This is absolutely ridiculous.
Comment by meems — 4/24/2007 @ 9:52 pm | Edit This
I agree with an angry parent in #18 who contrasts sins of “affection” with sins of hatefulness. I do wish we emphasized kindness as much as we emphasize morality; real kindness that sees others as human beings, not just service projects to make us look good. It would be interesting if one of the temple recommend questions was, “have you been unkind to anyone?” right along with, “do you keep the law of chastity?” That would spark some interesting self-analysis.
I do want to point out to an angry parent that the forgiveness for bullying does not come “routinely and without a second thought.” The comments on this post are proof of that. Treating someone unkindly burns into the unkind person’s conscience for years. I do hope that the people who are mistreating your daughter eventually realize what they’ve done, and are able to find her to apologize. Sometimes kids grow out of being mean-spirited and hateful.
I still remember some of the unkind things I did in jr. high and high school, and wish I could undo them. I do want forgiveness for that unkindness, and believe me, it isn’t forgiveness that will be routine and without a second thought. My unkind actions have caused me a lot of second thoughts and a lot of regrets.
I’m so sorry your daughter is being tormented. It’s got to hurt more to watch your kids hurt than to go through it yourself. That poor girl.
Comment by Melinda — 4/24/2007 @ 10:23 pm | Edit This
Mike (#2) what a powerful story. I have had far too many experiences like lamonte’s (#9) or DKL’s (#11) and others where the intention was not to offend, but it happened anyway because I just wanted to be “funny” (and ended up just being a jerk). I think stories like these highlight a lot of the suffering that we cause each other in life, intentionally or not, and I really appreciate Ardis sharing this and tying it back to the atonement, that allows for repentance and covers our sins and griefs and sorrows.
I think it is also important to remember that even the bullies and the queen bees are suffering, too, and that as angry and offensive as it is to be on the short end of the bully stick, these bullies are usually displaced victims as well. (I hope no one thinks I am justifying bullying).
But what has really struck me as I have read through these posts is the role of the atonement not only in “making up for” this suffering, but in anticipating it and allowing for it from the very foundations of the world. I often hear people say something like “how could a kind and loving God allow so much suffering in this world.” My father-in-law often jokes that “when I’m in charge of my own world, if anyone even thinks about harming another person – poof – they are out of there.” He is mostly serious, but kind of joking when he says this, and it always makes me think. The conclusion I come to is that God knew all of this suffering was going to happen. He allows it. And in many respects, it is even required.
One very valuable lesson that I take from the D&C is the important role that suffering plays in our eternal progression. I am grateful for the atonement in covering a multitude of sins. I am also grateful (usually – when I am not too upset to recognize it) for a heavenly father who allows me to sin and suffer and cause suffering (and repent of it, of course) as a means of growth towards a potentially more magnificent end. And I don’t think this is just my way of justifying being a jerk from time to time
Comment by Glenn — 4/24/2007 @ 10:35 pm | Edit This
I think that this is a great post, but I think that a lot of the comments are taking things a bit far.
Is the idea here to have a pity party for every kid who’s otherwise well on their way to having a miserable childhood? What ever happened to “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me”? Shouldn’t we be counting our blessings rather than bemoaning the meanness (intentional or otherwise) of others while we live our privileged and protected lives far from the agony endured by millions who live in the squalor of the third world or who suffer under the shackles of despotism? I think it’s terrible to make fun of a girl because she’s diabetic, but shouldn’t we focus instead on the miracles of medicine that have, within the last century, made it possible for diabetics to make it past young adulthood?
Comment by DKL — 4/25/2007 @ 12:26 am | Edit This
I thought “sticks and stones” got replaced by I’m rubber, you’re glue, your words bounce off me and stick to you.
Recently saw Heathers again, with our kids. Still can’t get through that closing scene with Veronica Sawyers and the Piggy Prouty character without tearing up.
Comment by Chino Blanco — 4/25/2007 @ 1:03 am | Edit This
Oh Ardis . . . what a beautiful, practical application of the Atonement. I’ve been listening to Faust’s talk on forgiveness from the last conference, and this dovetails with it to some extent.
Comment by Norbert — 4/25/2007 @ 2:24 am | Edit This
DKL said “Shouldn’t we be counting our blessings rather than bemoaning the meanness (intentional or otherwise) of others while we live our privileged and protected lives far from the agony endured by millions who live in the squalor of the third world or who suffer under the shackles of despotism?”
Certainly we should. But shouldn’t we also show our gratitude for the blessings of our comfortable lives by living as disciples of Christ, spurning the kind of behavior that has been discussed on this post? In our comfortabe circumstances we have no excuse to do otherwise.
Comment by lamonte — 4/25/2007 @ 8:01 am | Edit This
lamonte, those are my feelings exactly.
Comment by DKL — 4/25/2007 @ 8:45 am | Edit This
Without intending to distract from the current discussion, I just want to make the contextual point that when the important matter of repentance and atonement on a personal/religious basis becomes a group or societal issue (and becomes politicized in the process), what follows are some extremely complex and thorny policy conflicts. Inevitably, these conflicts seem to lead to arguments over the related but probably non-religious issues of apology and reparations, in some cases decades if not centuries after the fact. Also at stake is the matter of how the historiography of these issues is “handled,” i.e., written or even denied in toto. There are several such arguments underway today in various locales, some close to home. Probably the highest profile such dispute runs to the WWII era Holocaust with the discussion focusing on, among other matters, who owes what to whom, including matters of behavior by the Roman Catholic Papacy, the administrative decisions of FDR, and a variety of business/ethical decisions by European banks and insurance companies. In Asia the counterpart to this controversy currently runs to the WWII “comfort women” dispute and involves matters of appropriate repentenance/atonement by the Japanese government, the level of public apology to be rendered, and the size and handling of cash compensation. This issue is principally (but not entirely) between Korea and Japan. and is accompanied by the close second-cousin issue of what the Japanese did in China during the 1930s/40s, especially in places like Nanking. In all of these cases, the discussion of Japanese behavior in current Japanese history texts accompanies the discourse and has inflamed reactions in Korean and China as well as Japan. Then there is the earlier matter of Turkish behavior vis a vis the Armenians around 1915, a dispute that has been catapulted into legislation now before the U.S, Congress. Consequently this issue is intertwined with the matter of Turkish support for the current American war effort in Iraq. Speaking of Congress, there are also legislative proposals wending their way through various committees dealing with the level of apology and monetary reparations needed to resolve the American slavery legacy. This subject has also splashed onto a number of businesses and universities whose leaders/ benefactors were engaged in the slave trade during the 18th and 19th centuries. No need to belabor the even closer (and ongoing) disputes about repentance, atonement, apology, and reparations associated with MMM. Such matters are important but extremely contentious once they go beyond individual decision-making and behavior. It is hard enough to deal as an individual with the personal conduct and regrets discussed above; involvement at the group or societal level once politicized is darn never impossible to resolve satisfactorily and with civility.
Comment by Bill MacKinnon — 4/25/2007 @ 8:56 am | Edit This
“Is the idea here to have a pity party for every kid who’s otherwise well on their way to having a miserable childhood?”
I was at first dismayed that this was the direction that so many of the comments took, but then I thought why the heck not? Being bullied (or seeing your child bullied) and being told that it doesn’t matter, or not being believed when you try to tell someone how bad it is, only magnifies the injustice of the bullying. That can be worse than the physical bruising or the loss of your lunch money or the insecurity you feel every morning when you have to walk into the danger zone again. If venting here relieves the injustice for someone, okay — it reminds us that our careless actions can have more of an effect on someone than we may know.
Which brings us back to the real point I had in mind with this post: “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen, nobody knows but Jesus.” And the miracle is, he has done something about it, and all things will someday be made right.
Comment by Ardis Parshall — 4/25/2007 @ 9:06 am | Edit This
Bill (#29): These interesting questions get into what Mormons sometimes discuss as “counterfeits” — communism is a counterfeit of the law of consecration, cohabitation is a counterfeit of the sacrament of marriage, etc. — because apologies offered by other than a wrongdoer, or accepted by other than the injured party, or cash used as a substitute for correcting the real injury, is a counterfeit of God’s justice.
If I had a granddaughter who someday met the granddaughter of Peggy Prouty, and my granddaughter apologized to Peggy’s granddaughter and picked up the tab for lunch and gave her a nice gift to demonstrate the sincerity of her apology, it might do a great deal for their friendship. It would do exactly nothing to effect my repentance and remove this stain from my soul; it would do exactly nothing toward easing the burden of Peggy’s childhood and restoring her life to the level it might have reached had she not been intimidated by girls like me from attempting that great thing she was born to do. If the gift were not freely offered by my granddaughter, but was extracted from her at the point of a legal bayonet, the wrong I started would be perpetuated and increased, not healed.
Making nice between parties who are really not the central parties is cute but ineffective. Kit Bond’s rescission of the Missouri Extermination Order was a nice bit of public relations, but you’ll note that it didn’t come with a demand for nor offer of settlement of the Missouri Redress Petitions. Extractiing reparations for slavery or MMM or other long-gone wrongs doesn’t benefit the victims, punishes innocent parties (how many living Americans’ ancestors immigrated after the end of slavery? how many Mormons’ ancestors — or themselves — converted after 1857? Are such people excused from footing the bill? And since when is it justice to hold innocent great-grandchildren answerable for their great-grandparents’ crimes anyway?) and creates new wrongs rather than righting old ones. Even the public relations benefits are out of reach when the very real possibility of having your apology used against you by those wielding legal bayonets makes you think twice (or more) about apologizing.
Reparations are counterfeits of justice. (Kaimi, care to wade in?)
Comment by Ardis Parshall — 4/25/2007 @ 9:55 am | Edit This
Ardis – on a related subject, there was a recent article in the Washington Post discussing the idea that doctors avoid saying “I’m sorry” when they know they have made a mistake, precisely because that apology will be used as an admission of guilt in a court of law. Hence, the doctors’ seeming lack of compassion is what, in some cases, might actually motivate the patient to sue. What a crazy world we have made for ourselves.
Comment by lamonte — 4/25/2007 @ 10:19 am | Edit This
I am one of those who wrote a “pity party” story–but my intention wasn’t to make people feel sorry for me. I have another story where I tricked the bullies into thinking they had been poisoned by what they tried to do, but that wasn’t my point. A lot of people who have been bullied use that as an excuse to be bullies themselves–Virginia Tech, anyone?
Others of us use that experience to try to prevent others from being mistreated. Over the years, I have had a few turns at teaching Primary and Sunday School to kids. The only time I ever kicked a kid out of class was because he started teasing another kid to the point where it was clearly being hurtful–bullying.
In the mean time, what profession do I choose when I “grow up”? Law. Ever hear any lawyer jokes? I have developed a pretty thick skin now. On the other hand, maybe that bullying I experienced as a kid is part of why I am now in a position where I can, as we say, Do Bad Things to Bad People.
Comment by CS Eric — 4/25/2007 @ 10:28 am | Edit This
Ardis, I hope you’re not interpreting my prattlings as advocating such “counterfeits” because by and large I very much agree with what you’ve just written. I do, though, feel strongly that inaccurately or unwritten historical treatment of such events should be corrected. Demonstrable miscarriages of justice should be rectified if possible and if they pass the test of common sense, but I am opposed to such presumably well-intentioned but atonal, whimsical, and gratuitous behavior by politicians as the posthumous promotion of George Washington from lieutenant general to general of the armies (opposed by the Department of the Army but nonetheless carried to completion by Rep. Mario Biaggi for the Bicentennial before he was sent to the penitentiary), restoration of citizenship for Robert E. Lee, President Clinton’s award of the Medal of Honor to Teddy Roosevelt (on his last day in office after pardoning Marc Rich), and press releases by Massachusetts Gov. Dukakis and President Carter asserting their belief in the innocence of Dr. Samuel Mudd (John Wilkes Booth affair) and Sacco/Vanzetti (the Braintree payroll robbery-killing). Some events can’t or need not be atoned for by individuals or subsequent generations; in other cases, remedial action makes sense. Sorting out which is which is not always easy or popular. While Kaimi is mulling over your invitation to wade in, he can be thinking about how he feels about the congressional joint resolution during the Clinton administration apologizing to the now-deceased Queen of Hawaii for the late 19th-century seizure of the Kingdom of Hawaii, a heavy-handed maneuver later undone and then readdressed through the treaty of annexation.
Comment by Bill MacKinnon — 4/25/2007 @ 10:49 am | Edit This
lamonte, the only time I was ever in a fender bender, I kept saying to myself as I got out of my car, “Don’t say you’re sorry … don’t say you’re sorry …” for exactly that reason.
Comment by Ardis Parshall — 4/25/2007 @ 10:51 am | Edit This
I disagree, though I’m sure that’s no surprise.
You’re right, that some harms cannot be undone. We cannot undo slavery, or MMM, or Peggy Prouty, or any of a million other past harms. Why try, then?
First, because certain _effects_ of the harms _can_ be addressed. Suppose that I burn down your house, kill many of your neighbors, and drive you from the state, as happened with the Tulsa race riot. Or suppose that I enslave you, or kill family members. These are actions that will have a variety of effects. They will have internal, personal, emotional consequences. Those can never be undone. No payment will undo the trauma of being driven from town at gunpoint.
They will also have specific, economic consequences. You are out one $80,000 house; you suffer from health problems due to your expulsion; you lose your investments, your property, your former livelihood. Your children are more likely to be impoverished, due to my actions. They are exponentially less likely to receive an inheritance from you. They are less likely to be homeowners, less likely to attend a university, and more likely to live below the poverty line.
It is well-known that one principle of repentance in LDS belief is that we right the wrong. If I steal a cow, I return the cow. And similarly, if my actions lead to real, tangible, negative consequences, then I should take steps to ameliorate the effects of those consequences.
Second, because victims remember. Victim descendants remember. And apologies and restitution matter to victim descendants. Take a look at the stories about the recent Illinois apology to Mormons. Gov. Walker reported was in tears, and said that the apology brought closure. Other members expressed their own gratitude, including church leaders.
Meaningless words? No. The fact is, we identify with our ancestors. They are part of our identity. We dress up for pioneer day, we read their journals. We worship in buildings they constructed, as last conference emphasized. We draw personal spiritual strength from their spiritual experiences. And we are similarly hurt and offended by wrongs done to them.
Apologies and restitution do matter to victim descendants.
Third, culpability is not as lacking as you suggest. Your example of your own descendant is instructive. Your descendant is not the legal heir of your actions, and is quite attenuated as a moral heir to your actions.
However, long-lived entities — including the church, the United States, individual states, and corporate entities — are different. The church today inherits all of the benefits and liabilities of the entity that existed in 1830.
We generally think of this as a good thing. We can perform sessions in the Salt Lake Temple, even though it was built 150 years ago. We can read the Book of Mormon which was translated 180 years ago. We receive the _benefit_ of a legal link to the legal entity which existed in 1830. Why should we think that we are immune from the _debts_ incurred by that entity?
“It happened 150 years ago, why should unrelated members be linked to it financially?” breaks the link to MMM, to be sure. It also breaks the link to the Salt Lake temple. It was built 150 years ago by other people – why should members today receive the financial benefit of it? Let them build their own temple.
The same applies to post-1857 converts. They want to receive the benefits of pre-1857 actions. They receive those benefits _because_ the church is a long-lived corporate entity. The nature of the long-lived corporate entity, though, means that not only benefits should pass on to new members — liabilities should pass on as well.
Comment by Kaimi Wenger — 4/25/2007 @ 3:01 pm | Edit This
Thank you, Ardis, for a wonderful post.
Another aspect your story is troublesome. Somewhere, decades ago, we made a mistake, something hurtful which we regret. But we have repented, we have been sorry, we may even been forgiven by the person we hurt, we have been able to forgive ourselves, and we have been promised the Lord will remember our sins no more. But still the memory is in our head, coming back at times, vivid and real, still troubling. Why can’t that memory not being erased?
Comment by Wilfried — 4/25/2007 @ 3:12 pm | Edit This
Wilfried – I recently heard someone say that Christ promised that He would forget our sins but not necessarily that we would forget them. I try very hard to live my life without regret and part of that is to accept that I have made mistakes. What I have done about those mistakes allows me to live in peace – without regret. I wonder if our remembrabce of past misdeeds is actually helpful to us in remebering the pain that we caused ourselves and others.
Comment by lamonte — 4/25/2007 @ 3:29 pm | Edit This
“Our Church looks at sexual sins with zero tolerance. A mere glimpse at a Playboy requires an obligatory trip to the bishop. But bullying and careless remarks? Who cares? Certainly not most Church leaders, whose own kids are often among the worst offenders. It seems to me a much greater sin to act with deliberate hatefulness than in consequence of misdirected curiosity or affection. It’s all fine and good to talk about the comfort and peace that comes from repenting and forgiving others, but none of that high-minded sanctimoniousness heals the eternal wounds caused by hateful actions. And neither does a forgiving God, at least not that I’ve been able to see.”
If near-death experiencers are to be believed, not to mention Christ himself, the most important thing we do and don’t do on this earth is love living beings. Both bullying and sexual sin are opposed to charity. Both can be equally destructive. But, in a male-driven world, sexual sin will always get more attention and shame, though the afterwold will prove such heirarchy of sin is not as we think we understand it to be.
Comment by cyril — 4/25/2007 @ 3:34 pm | Edit This
Wilfried: Why can’t that memory [of sin] not be erased?
Because Jesus Christ’s atonement may be real, but it’s not that real.
Comment by DKL — 4/25/2007 @ 3:58 pm | Edit This
I once witnessed the following:
1. Bishop at podium introduces his son as a candidate for an Aaronic Priesthood ordination
2. 2 parents of other children stand and raise arms in objection
3. Bishops face turns red and no ordination occurs
4. parents meet with Bishop to discuss the bishops son bullying. Bishops son is required to apologize to the multiple kids for bullying
5. Several months later a much chastened bishops son was put forward for ordination. This time no objections.
Good one eh?
Comment by BBELL — 4/25/2007 @ 3:59 pm | Edit This
I really like that one BBELL. I would love to see more of that. That must have been really hard for that Bishop to stand up there. Basically having his son put on public display for his misdeeds. I applaud those courageous enough to stand up and object to the ordaination.
Comment by Ian M. Cook — 4/25/2007 @ 5:48 pm | Edit This
I could be WAY off here, so forgive me if I am, but isn’t the “I steal a cow, I return a cow” mentality the same ‘eye-for-an-eye’ mentality that Christ taught to improve upon? I thought that the atonement places Christ in the very center for all our sins and all our acts of reparation as well.
“Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these…” could apply to a sinful act or and act of service “when you’re in the service of your fellow beings…”
So, instead of needing to track down every person we have ever offended, aren’t we redeemed by making sure that we are extra kind and loving to the next person, and the next, and that we teach our children to be the same, and that we teach them how to repent, and that we spread those acts of charity and service as far reaching as we can? This is all just theory for me — I do a lousy job of it in practice — although sometimes I remember it’s what I’m supposed to do. But it seems to me, at least, that this is what our gospel is teaching.
Comment by Glenn — 4/25/2007 @ 6:38 pm | Edit This
Ardis, thanks for sharing this. Without even looking I knew what the response would look like. I have a similar story–although my guilt is from standing silently by, doing nothing to defend the girl being tormented. I shared it once while teaching RS a few years back. The response was similar to yours. I renamed my tormentor (and that of the other girl) “Bob.”
I was stunned at how many people told me, “I had a ‘Bob,’ too.” I was even more surprised at how many said, “I was Bob.”
More than I’d like, I agree with ‘angry parent.” Give me smokers, drinkers, and fornicators. You take the bullies.
Well I remember the day that “Bob” was sustained in order to receive the Aaronic priesthood. At 11 I sat on the pew in utter shock. After six years of being bullied by him every single day at school AND at church, only then did it occur to me that “Bob” got the priesthood, in spite of the living hell he’d made of my life…and I never would, no matter how I lived, because I was a girl.
DKL, you better believe I want a pity party. If it will wake up just one person to the pain, I’ll hold a stinking celebration.
Comment by Alison Moore Smith — 4/25/2007 @ 10:00 pm | Edit This
“What ever happened to “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me”?”
Perhaps it went the way of all utterly false platitudes. I’d take a punch in the face any day over what I was given. At least adults pay attention to physical violence.
May I recommend a great bookon female bullying? It’s always stunning to me, when working with YW, how they can all give the “Sunday School answer” to every presented scenario, while completely overlooking their own behavior 13 seconds earlier. And it’s even more surprising that youth leaders ignore it as well.
Comment by Alison Moore Smith — 4/25/2007 @ 10:09 pm | Edit This
After six years of being bullied by him every single day at school AND at church, only then did it occur to me that “Bob” got the priesthood, in spite of the living hell he’d made of my life…and I never would, no matter how I lived, because I was a girl.
That is a very poignant realization (I have a daughter who is almost eleven — thankfully she has no Bobs in the ward) and I am glad that you shared it as my daughter will soon, I expect, encounter the priesthood gender dilmma on her own. It raises great questions about what the priesthood really is — and really should be (and how I am playing the role of priesthood holder to my kids). I would dare to state that no outward ordinance fooled you that this person’s heart (and I want to be careful about laying judgments on his hear — who knows what pain he was going through as well) was perhaps not as “in tune” with what you would hope for a holder of the priesthood, be it the “training-level” aaronic version or the “advanced-level” melchezadek. I will admit that I do not really know what the priesthood is, other than a formal reminder that I need to act and behave “in the name of God” — i.e. be charitable, longsuffering, forgiving, etc etc — all the things I struggle with. But I appreciate your perspective, especially in light of this discussion on bullying and atonement, and can only imagine how awful it was for you, and must be to many who experience something similar, to see a tormentor celebrated and validated largely because of his age and gender. That’s a tough one. Thanks for making me think about it.
Comment by Glenn — 4/25/2007 @ 11:29 pm | Edit This
As a member of a bishopric I am glad to have read these comments. I am not over the young men or young women in our ward, but I will certainly try to be more sensitive to this issue. Thank you.
Comment by It’s Not Me — 4/26/2007 @ 12:12 am | Edit This
If I steal a cow from you, and you don’t think I’ll need to return it (or one like it), please let me know where you live and what kind of car you drive.
Comment by Bookslinger — 4/26/2007 @ 2:04 am | Edit This
I’m surprised no one has mentioned missionary bullying, both by fellow missionaries and mission/MTC leadership.
I’ll make my confession: I was a terrible senior companion and district leader.
Bbell (#41): sounds like the Bishop’s son was a real sonuva-bishop.
Comment by Bookslinger — 4/26/2007 @ 2:13 am | Edit This
As my sister pointed out to me once about a decade ago, I appear mighty slow to forgive deeds done 30 years ago and more. The truth is, even when I think I have, something (like this post or a high school reunion or…) comes up and all the old feelings come back. It’s infuriating, but I don’t know how to completely get rid of it.
Hearing of another person who suffered the same kind of treatment–day after day, year after year, with no protection and no reprieve–breaks my heart all over again. Then, I blast off some response that makes me wish for an edit button…
But, Glenn, your gracious response was most appreciated. Thank you.
Comment by Alison Moore Smith — 4/26/2007 @ 3:14 am | Edit This
Alison (#50), I have the same problem over longstanding bullying (I was the bully only this once; I was at Peggy’s end of it so often and so long that even today I catch myself expecting to be bullied when I’m around preteens and teens). In my case, and perhaps in yours, it isn’t so much that I hold a grudge against individuals as it is fear of being put back in that situation, or realization that my life isn’t what it would have been had I not grown up in fear. In other words, it’s a constantly recurring victimization, not failure to forgive something that is past and gone. At least, that’s my current theory.
All the more reason to fight bullying even if you’ve not often been the target of it. Muttering “sticks and stones” may do to shrug off an isolated, shallow instance, but recommending that as the solution for most cases only signals that somebody really doesn’t understand the seriousness and personality-changing consequences.
Comment by Ardis Parshall — 4/26/2007 @ 9:20 am | Edit This
The missionary comment was appreciated. There was very little good about my mission and the bullying I experienced is acerbated by the fact that my ‘laziness’ in the field was diagnosed 3 years later as a chronic illness. I think the only way to describe some of what went on in my mission as verbal abuse
Comment by angrymormonliberal — 4/26/2007 @ 10:05 am | Edit This
This post originally appeared on another blog on 24 April 2007.