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She was a tyrant, interested only in having her own way. She didn’t care about anyone beyond her immediate circle of friends and wasn’t above spreading mean gossip to cement her power. When I met her, the cheerleader popularity that had elected her had faded away. As we sat in a meeting to design the upcoming prom, she didn’t need anyone else to attend. She had already decided what the celebration should look like. The other students were visually groaning at her drawing.
“We’ll take a vote,” I told her calmly.
She fell into a rage. “I’m the president! It’s already done!”
“No. It isn’t. I’m the class sponsor, and this is a democracy.”
“I’ll quit! I’ll walk out of here and never come back! None of my friends will help you and I have a lot of friends.” She stood up, her lieutenant standing angrily by her side.
“That’s your choice,” I said.
She and her girlfriend stomped out and those left in the room looked at one another. They had come expecting the dictator. They weren’t prepared to think for themselves. “What now?” they asked me.
I smiled. “Now we collect ideas and put the choices to a vote.”
More students showed up to help decorate for that prom than anyone could remember, and everyone was proud of the final result—almost everyone.
I tell this story to illustrate I don’t like tyrants. I don’t believe in anyone having absolute power. And I don’t like bullies. One student I taught in college had recently been released from prison. He was big and covered with tattoos the meaning of which I knew wasn’t good. We were studying what amounted to remedial reading and he didn’t like the exercises I was requiring—exercises to present the sequencing of letter sounds within words to the brain in a way few teachers were using at the time.
He stood up, towering over me, standing close to intimidate me. “This is stupid. I’m not doing it.”
My heart was beating hard. The other students looked worried.
“This method works,” I told him. “Otherwise I wouldn’t use it. It’s not meant to demean anybody.”
“I won’t do it.” He stared into my eyes.
I gestured toward the door. “Then you’re welcome to leave. You don’t have to be here, you know. If you don’t like the way I teach, then go someplace else.”
He left and I had a vision of him waiting for me in the parking lot at the end of the day. But he wasn’t there. He returned the following Monday, participated in the exercises, and we didn’t speak of our confrontation again. He passed the class.
It’s scary to stand up to bullies and tyrants, but the alternative is scarier.