Now, a secondary school is, of course, an environment in which a lot of human interaction occurs, often visible and audible to others. She could not close herself off from it, even in the middle of a lesson, she could hear the shouting in the corridor or in an adjoining room, while she continued talking automatically.
Teaching was easy for her and most children liked her subject: drawing. She didn’t have much trouble working with them, but some of her colleagues were so rude to those children that it made her turn red. With indignation. All right, they could be quite annoying, but it seemed as if it was precisely those pupils who did not deserve to be shouted at in this way. She had already spoken to her colleagues about it several times, but not one of them took it seriously. Colleague Jonas had just added that she should mind her own business, which made her even more indignant.
On such days she went home tired, which in turn affected her family life. Dinner was no fun and she couldn’t even talk about it at home, because nobody seemed to sympathise with her. She herself had two children of secondary school age and, really, they were not always so easy either.
She had Wednesdays off and her youngest son had two periods between classes, in which they sometimes played a game or did some shopping together. Now he was there too, and she was still roaring internally from an incident the day before, so she brought it up. This time he seemed to be listening with real interest and in fits and starts the whole story came out. Her son had also been taught by Jonas, so maybe that was it. He didn’t say anything until she had finished the whole story. Then he started:
‘I don’t always agree with you, Mum. Of course, sometimes someone gets wrongly punished, but there are also times when someone gets off scot-free. Usually, we don’t mind as much as you do. We think Jonas is a nice teacher. He’s very witty and if we’re being difficult, he sometimes reads an exciting story to us, so that we all have fun again. You often admire Mrs Flagman, that she is always so funny and smiles so much, that she gets on well with all the parents and that she has such wonderful stories. But Mrs Flagman can also be very annoying and nag for a long time about someone’s clothes or about a wrong word. At school camp, her sweet talk made us all a bit sick, while with Peters, who you also talk about so often, we laughed so hard that it still makes us smile every now and then.
You see injustice everywhere and you talk about it all the time, so often that it becomes very boring for us. Yes, if you pay attention, the whole world is full of injustice, but what are you doing about it? And do you think you yourself never become unjustly angry with us? Do you really think so? Surely you can see that we are angry with you too then?’
That was very unexpected. Suddenly such a long, confrontational talk, while they never had these kinds of conversations together. Her youngest son, who actually lectured her, but in an exceptionally pleasant tone, unexpectedly mature. Like a friend. She thought back to the time her sons had been quarrelling, a long time ago, and she tried as usual to find out who was to blame. Then her eldest son, also in such a friendly tone, had suddenly asked, “Why are you meddling, Mum?” It was so funny, because he looked as if he was working. And of course he was, he was learning to solve problems. At the time she had been perplexed, not knowing what to say or do. She had gone to take the dog for a walk and that had been a golden move, because she still found it difficult to listen and not interfere. When she came back with the happy dog, everything had been peaceful. They were building some toy together. She had continued doing so, walking the dog at such times. The dog almost started to look happy at the first angry note. The result: hardly any quarrelling left, but it had taken a while.
Now she had such a wise gentleman as a son again. What interesting people descendants can be, she thought warmly. Her husband never said such things to her. He would talk about practical matters, but never about the inner life, let alone say anything confrontational. But this way she got what she needed, she realised now. She had been walking around with a question: why is there so much injustice in the world. She had thought it was a good thing in herself that she could not stand it, but now she began to doubt that.
Everything changed. Suddenly, she no longer felt that she was in the right when she sensed injustice in someone else. Now she knew that she only saw one side of the issue. But the issue kept bothering her. Then she noticed a piece of text in a book that was lying open at a friend’s house: “He who judges, judges only himself.” She began to pay attention to what her thoughts said throughout the day. It was as if someone was watching because she constantly heard and saw herself judging. Before she discovered it, she had already done it. “What an odd coat”, her thoughts would call out, and she would also catch herself involuntarily turning away when she saw someone she didn’t like. But in fact it went on all day long.
‘Don’t judge,’ that was easier said than done. And how could you make choices without judging, anyway? Even an ordinary lamppost was subject to judgement, she saw with her ‘double glance’. What did come naturally was that she no longer acted in the old way of judging. She no longer bothered her colleagues with comments and remarks and she also had much more respect – and therefore more attention and understanding – for her two sons. She searched for traces of wisdom in her pupils and found astonishingly many looks and observations indicating that they had more in them than she had thought. Life became a lot more interesting this way. She no longer roared inside, but she still found a lot to like. So it remained a disturbing subject, gnawing at her with questions she could not find answers to.
But this morning she wakes up with a strangely excited expectation that seemed to make no sense. She tries to ignore it, but she cannot. In the afternoon, she takes the dog for a long walk. And as he jumps into a pond for the umpteenth time to fetch the ball, her mind suddenly lights up. Instead of trying to ignore the fact that she is judging, she can also deal with it this way: when she sees someone doing something she finds reprehensible, she simply asks herself whether she does it herself sometimes. The bottom line is that she is not condemning the person, but the act, and that she is doing something useful for herself by doing it. Just as her son had said that she herself also acted unjustly. And actions she admires: maybe those are the qualities she still needs to develop.
She has no idea whether that is some kind of end station, probably not, because then you are still judging. But for the time being, it seems to her a healthy way of living.
‘But I can’t explain that to anyone, at least I wouldn’t know how,’ she says cheerfully to the dog, who has been wagging the ball in front of her for a long time. She throws it extra far.