I was just talking to my mother and she reminded me about something I had done when I was a kid. Once she brought it up, I realized it was an important moment in my life. I learned a very important lesson that day.
I don’t remember what grade it was, it was either third or fourth grade I think. The school had just implemented a rule that at lunch time, we were to sit at tables with our classmates. I don’t remember the logic the school was using that lead them to think this was anything less than a ridiculous idea, but I do remember thinking that it was a stupid rule, and that it was wrong.
My only friend was in the grade below me. I spent every day being picked on, harassed, and hurt by my classmates. It wasn’t right that for the brief break from people who were awful to me and the short period of time every day I got to talk to a friend, that they would take that away from me, that they would control of my free time and dictate who I was to socialize with.
My parents taught me to always do the right thing. Whether anyone knew it or not, whether anyone agreed with it or not, whether it was easy or not, do the right thing at any cost. This was something they got right.
At first recess, I told my friend I thought the new rule was wrong. I told her that we were not to sit at a table with people from other classes, and asked if she would sit on the floor with me instead… you know, ‘cause the floor isn’t a table, and the rule is about the tables. It didn’t take long to talk her into it. I asked her to ask her other friends if they would too, and they agreed.
Lunchtime came. And once I got my lunch tray, my heart was racing. I was so scared that I was sweating like crazy and my eyes were watering. I didn’t know if my friend would really follow through, nor did I know if her friends would join in. But I knew this was wrong, and that meant I had to do something about it. So… I went to the middle of the cafeteria and sat on the floor, and started eating my lunch. After a couple of minutes (which felt like years) my friend came out and sat next to me. Then two more kids came out, then more, then more… everyone whispering to each other telling one another what we were doing and it just fueled more to come join us.
There we were. A significant portion of the kids in the cafeteria sitting on the floor. The principal came in and asked what the heck was going on and everyone went silent, turned, and pointed at me. I felt like I couldn’t breathe when he gestured for me to follow him, but I did. We went into his office and he asked what was going on. I just said, “We were told we couldn’t sit at a table with other classes, and my friends are in other classes, so… we didn’t sit at a table.”
He laughed and said, “OK OK, I get it, forget it, it was a stupid rule.” And they ditched the new rule. It didn’t even last one full day.
That was the day I learned that I can make a difference. That was the day I learned it’s always worth it — worth the fear, the cost, the risk of failure, the discomfort, the making a complete ass of yourself — if what you’re doing is the right thing to do. That was the day I learned to challenge “stupid” rules.