Everyone has had the feeling, “I wish I had said…” when you hear something nasty, insulting, or hurtful. “I should have told them…” when you overhear anger, distrust or prejudice “If I had another chance to speak up I wouldn’t have let that comment go unanswered.”
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? It isn’t enough to get into a name calling conversation. You would have wanted to say something meaningful. Something that would make them feel repentant about their statement.
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 visited 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,” said the second grade teacher, Mrs. Albano.
“University of Pennsylvania is a great school, but it’s right in the heart of the city,” added Mrs. Golobin, the music teacher.
”Cornell is a fine school, but it’s so huge and it’s so isolated,” put in Mr. Slaughter, the math teacher.
And the conversation continued with the fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Black’s comment, “Goucher is an excellent school; we don’t give it much attention because it’s practically in our back yard.”
Stunned silence. Did anyone say anything afterwards? Any responses? 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 it bothers me even now, all these years later. I hear that comment again and again in my mind 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?