That title, “When Good Men Do Nothing” is misleading. I fear in this story I wasn’t one of the good men. I was a scared little boy, more interested in winning the praise of someone I admired then sticking up for someone I should have defended.
We are all the hero of our own story
We play the scenes out in our minds. The damsel in distress? We ride in as the rescuer. The plucky group of soldiers surrounded and outnumbered? We unhesitantly step up to volunteer to sacrifice for the team. Hollywood, of course, gives us plenty of opportunity to indulge in this self-delusion.
Ave Imperator, morituri te salutant – We who are about to die, salute you!
– Gladiator –
True courage is harder to come by. I don’t know how I would react if I were on Flight 93 on September 11, 2001 and only got to choose the method of my death, not the timing of it. Would I be with those who calmly declared “Let’s roll” as they went to sacrifice themselves? I hope so. In my private daydream moments, I’m always that guy.
I was a sophomore trombone player in our high school band. Band class was for all ages. Gerald* (Name has been changed) was a junior and he was cool. I mean really awesome. He was great at basketball. He was first chair in the trombone section. And he wanted to be my friend. I was pretty excited. Gerald and I attended the same church. So, I had known him quite a while. That he wanted to be friends with a geeky underclassman meant a lot to me. Much more than it should have.
The problem was that Gerald was a jerk. Sure, in high school we were all jerks at one time or another, but Gerald took it to a different level. And he was a bully. And the subject of his bullying was Chris. Chris was also a sophomore, although we weren’t part of the same group of friends. Honestly, I don’t know if Chris had a group of friends.
Chris suffered terrible teenage acne. He wore large hornrimmed glasses. And he played clarinet in our band class. Gerald took it upon himself to make Chris’ life hell. But, Gerald was smart enough to not attack Chris directly. His taunts and insults were more subtle than that.
First he gave Chris the nickname “Woody.” Sure, because clarinet is a woodwind instrument, right? No one believed that for a second. But it gave Gerald cover. The clarinets sat on the opposite side of the horseshoe shaped band room from the trombones. Chris had no choice, but to see and be seen by Gerald for the entire period. I don’t know why, but Gerald would put his hand into a weird #1 symbol and while jabbing it into the air look at Chris and say, “Hey, hey!”
He never crossed the line into doing anything actionable. Gerald was a master at the put-down. Chris, to his credit did his best to deal with it. He never got mad. He’d laugh along with Gerald and the rest of us. I’m sure he was silently hoping that if he just went along with it, Gerald would lose interest. He didn’t.
Daily, Gerald did everything he could make Chris’ life miserable. Chris, smaller, awkward and with limited social skills, had no choice but to take it.
Yeah, Gerald was a jerk.
I was worse.
See, every day as Gerald set out to make Chris’ experience horrible, I sat right next to him. . . silent. I didn’t want Chris to be picked on. While we weren’t friends, I certainly bore him no ill-will. But, I struggled with two conflicting fears. First was that Gerald would no longer be my friend. But, worse, I feared that if I spoke up, he might turn his poison darts on me. So, I said nothing. I felt sorry for Chris. I should have felt sorry for me.
I thought about Chris the other day. I’m ashamed to say that I couldn’t even recall his name. I just remembered him as Woody, a name I’m sure he absolutely hated hearing. I dug through my old yearbooks and picked him out of the band pictures.
He left Timberline High School in Lacey, Washington sometime between his sophomore and senior years(1980-1983). I didn’t even notice. Gerald also left during his senior year to attend a different high school in the district.
I wonder what happened to Chris. I hope that he went off to college, got married, had kids and never had to endure that level of ridicule again. And if he ever does have to endure it again, I hope he is surrounded by braver men than I was.
If anyone has contact information for Chris Battle who lived in Lacey, WA in the early 1980s and attended Timberline High School, I’d love to hear from him. I’d like to say I’m sorry that by my silence I contributed to his torment.
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
– Edmund Burke
I now try to be a better man than I was.
Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.
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