True stories with a twist!


Everyone has had the feeling, “I wish I had said…” when you hear something insulting or hurtful. “I should have told them…” when you overhear anger, distrust or prejudice “If I had another chance to speak up…”

Yes, don’t we all wish we had the chance to tell them what we really think of their bias, their small mindedness, their intolerance. You would tell them. Really? And what would you tell them, exactly? What is it you wish you had said? How would you feel now if only you had told them…told them what?

Many years ago in my first job fresh out of college at age twenty one, I worked as a speech therapist in Baltimore’s school system. One day I went into the teacher’s lounge during a break. Several teachers were sitting and talking about colleges to which their children were hoping to apply.

“Princeton is a wonderful school, but I doubt if he could get in,”

“University of Pennsylvania is a great school, but it’s right in the heart of the city.”

”Cornell is a fine school, but it’s so huge and it’s so isolated.”

“Goucher is an excellent school; we don’t give it much attention because it’s practically in our back yard.”

And then came the line that has haunted me all these years.

“Goucher is a good school, but it has so many Jews.”

Stunned silence. Did anyone say anything afterwards? I don’t remember. All I remember is being so shocked that I was speechless. I had never experienced such outward prejudice before, and I had no idea how to handle it. But I should not have let it go unanswered. I should not have let it stand unchallenged.

And so it bothers me even now. I hear that comment again and again and think I should have said something. But what should I have said? I still don’t know what the right thing to say would have been.

What would you have said ?

Comments on: "I SHOULD HAVE SAID…" (50)

  1. Hi Ronnie, I’ve chaired a lot of meetings where comments such as these have been made in a group forum and, as the group moderator, have interrupted and simply said “that was a very inappropriate thing to say”. No more than that. It’s not belittling the individual, but it does put them on notice (as well as the rest of the group) that inappropriate comments aren’t welcome. Predjudice is such a destructive disease. It, most times, is learned/passed down from families. Such a really sad issue when, no matter what color skin, when it’s cut, it bleeds red. I don’t know when people will start to understand that.

  2. That person was judging, but so is everyone else judging that person.
    I think the only way we can avoid more wars, strife, prejudice is to stop judging, ourselves and everyone else.
    So don’t go on judging and beating yourself up Ronnie, and let go your feelings around that person, so that they can move on too….
    I lIved at Belsen – where Anne Franck died – just after the war, and have had to learn not to judge the Germans.. and I’m working on a whole lot of other people too!!!!!!

  3. Anonymous said:

    I don’t think you can change someone else’s opinion by what you say. You have probably been beating yourself up all these years for nothing. It is very difficult to overcome such blatant prejudice and calling someone on it only embarasses them and makes them more prejudiced. Hopefully this person had many good experiences with Jews later in life and changed her mind, but words will not do it.

    • What an interesting perspective. I don’t know whether you’re right, but I sure feel better now that I, in your opinion, did not lose the perfect teaching moment in which to profess equality and lack of prejudice.

  4. It’s tough when a comment is so stunning. I still remember a business meeting that was basically hijacked with an inappropriate side turn and I was completely speechless from shock. (Fortunately someone else grabbed the reins.)

  5. “What in the fuck are you doing here? Are you sharing these insane prejudices with your charges? Do you have any knowledge of recent history? I’m calling the police because I’m about to assault you.”

  6. If I could have said something and I don’t know that I would have had the guts, I might have asked why that would be a problem or issue.

  7. Someone I know well made an outrageous comment about Jews. While I’m not Jewish, my husband is, and he was present when it was said. My face is usually an accurate barometer of how I feel and I’m sure that the person picked up on that. I also said nothing because I felt it would not alter the person’s view. My husband also said nothing.

    At the time, I wished that I had made a comment. In retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t. The person tried to make amends the very next day, and I think they knew how hurtful their comments were.

    Sometimes, silence speaks volumes.

  8. I think the way to act is stand up leave the room and ask anyone who thinks that the speaker should be left alone with that thought to follow suit.

  9. That is definitely a conversation-stopper, and an ugly one at that. I don’t know what I would have said. Maybe something simple like, “I don’t even know how to respond to that.” Then again, an ugly silence speaks volumes, and when I’ve heard people say nasty things, the silence that follows can leave them with figurative egg on their face.

  10. Lisa Honecker said:

    You should have “Six Million are Dead because of statements like that.” Growing up my parents never allowed the word “hate” at the dinner table because my father witnessed the awful aftermath of one of the camps at the end of World War II in 1945. They constantly reminded me. It is important stories such as this, that need to be written and to keep WRITING. So we create generations who don’t utter such statements. How sad.

    Lisa Honecker

  11. I get asked to explain how having the Jews was a problem and explain how it felt on the social ladder. It probably would not have responded, but it was enough to call in his little head, and put it uncomfortable 😉

  12. It will be hard for some people to change their perspective about certain issues even and this is one of them. Call it ignorance or pride, but that’s the truth. Prejudice for whatever reason is something I cannot withstand. But I’ve also learnt my lesson. I’ve been in a similar situation were I was attacked with caustic words in the end. And one of the women added: “Who invited you in the first place?”

  13. How about, “is this America or Nazi Ge
    rmany? Take your choice.”
    (I like to be equally outrageous in these matters. )

  14. How about laughter, followed by “did you seriously just say that? It’s so surprising to hear (small-minded prejudice) that from you!”
    I’ve been in that position many times. I hope I’m getting better at being ready. Maybe the silence taught the offender, but it seems unlikely. It’s cool when people see their wrong, change their mind and grow better. So what to say that will invite them to betterment?

  15. These situations are tricky, Ronnie. As you said, you were shocked and surprised. I think it is the shock and surprise that renders us speechless at times. Sometimes you wonder if you heard correctly and then when your brain finally processes the language, the people have left the room or the moment has passed.

  16. “You condescending fool, and how many people have you now just injured with your discourteous comment??” I’m afraid I’m a bit of a boots and all person when I hear such statements, maybe that’s why I sometimes think my mouth is a little faster than my brain… and I’m always ready for a retort from the fool.. love a good argument..

  17. We can never know for sure what we would have said. There are so many factors involved, including your age and the fact that it was your first job after college. It also sounds as though you weren’t part of the conversation, and may have missed something that was said before you walked in. Is it possible that the comment was intended as sarcasm? Maybe one of the other teachers was Jewish and the speaker was trying to be funny. Or maybe the person who said it was Jewish and was ridiculing the general perception about that school. If I heard such a thing now, I would try to determine if the meaning really was what it sounded like, and if so, question the person later, in private. “Why does it matter how many Jewish students there are? And how would you know that, anyway?”

    It was a long time ago, Ronnie. I think the real question is, how would you handle it now?

    • You are right that I wasn’t part of the conversation. But I don’t think i missed something meant as sarcasm. They were a group of small minded people thinking they had the right to pas judgement on others.

  18. I’m never good at coming up with the right line for the right moment. In that situation, perhaps just walking out would have been enough. But maybe a comeback like, oh really, I heard there were so many … fill in the blank with whatever ethnic group or religion might un-nerve the listener! Hindsight is always 20-20!

    • Neither am I good at coming up with the right comment at the appropriate time. Maybe that’s why we are writers and have the opportunity to rewrite comments until they sound the way we really want them to sound.

  19. Gail Fishman Gerwin said:

    Easy. Since I graduated from Goucher, I could have said that I went to Goucher and was welcomed by the entire population, Jewish and not Jewish, and that it was an amazing place to be with an amazing education to offer. But could have isn’t the same as would have. I’d never heard that assessment of the school, Ronnie, but probably would have remained speechless like you as a young teacher in a new job. (My first teaching job was in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood school with a mentor who was a Goucher graduate.) Hindsight is a wonderful luxury and those who said it probably brought up children and influenced grandchildren with the same skewed vision. Too bad for them.

  20. Sometimes really, we could be speechless and maybe stunned, at other times talking with passion could generate an argument that would make you feel you never spoke.
    For me, I would either be completely silent or ask the question; “does it really matter that there are many Jews there? Then I would add; “I really don’t think so, neither tribal nor religious differences and such trivialities are sufficient to seperate us”.
    Our own association with others and accomodation of others should speak more volumes than our words.
    Rather than win through arguments, win through action.
    It’s good to do what we can when it still counts. There really is no basis for prejudice, we must eliminate it by opening our arms wide to accomodate and openly make our recommendations without bias. Our own actions can influence others without verbal arguments. I never encourage anybody to either feel inferior or be treated as such.
    Lovely post!

  21. I am often at a loss for words and also don’t have an answer. In some situations the words “I am dissapointed in you” can make the person think about what they have said, but then again it depends on the person.

  22. It is always hard to know what to say. I always worry that I will make the situation worse, but sometime silence and not acknowledging can be just as powerful to show your disapproval.

  23. I hate to separate people because of their religions or political thoughts, or anything… In my country we are dealing with this too… To say something to them, does it make any sense in their world? I don’t think so… And also do they understand what I mean… So for me, there is nothing to say to them…

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