When my son was 14 he came home from school very upset. It turns out that a “friend” had been bugging him about being of German descent. A little history is in order here. I was born in Germany and in 1980, when I was 9 years old, my family immigrated to Canada. When children in my new Canadian school found out we were from Germany, some of the bigger bully types decided it would be fun to call us Nazis, and say, “Heil, Hitler” to us while saluting. My two sisters and I were quite upset by this, knowing how reluctantly our grandfathers had fought in the war, and how awful it had been for our grandmothers to provide proof of lineage for the family so they would not be classed as a Jews and put in concentration camps. I remember my grandmother kept these papers handy in her cupboard, just in case, even decades after the war ended. My sisters and I ended up telling our mother about our experience, and she promptly marched in to the principal to demand severe punishment for the boys. The “offenders” were asked to write a lengthy report on WWII in their own time, and present it to the whole school…..along with a public apology to my sisters and myself…..that’s a shame story for another time, but…..
Image by Mattheus Elwood
…. back to my son in 2019, this “friend” had been calling him, you guessed it, “Nazi”. This was not really a problem for him, he just ignored it, and didn’t see the point in really getting into it with this other boy. However, Cancer awareness month rolled around and my son decided to make a donation for his recently deceased Nan on my husband’s side, mostly from the USA….when my son mentioned that he was making the donation because of this loved Nan had died from Cancer, the “friend” said, “ Oh, is that your Nazi Grandmother?” This completely crossed the line for my son, and he got very upset. Not only was the pain of Nan’s passing still quite raw, but also the fact that this boy made such a nasty comment about her was not acceptable, not to mention that she really had nothing to do with anything German.
When he told me this I could feel my empathetic response kicking in, remember back to my own pain, my heart opened and I practiced some Yin compassion with wet eyes, holding him and acknowledging how hard this was, showing him our common humanity by reminding him of my own story. We talked about how this boy probably did not even know what he had done, and how much it upset my son. We talked about how hard it was for my son to be with this pain, not knowing what he could do without causing pain in return. We talked about how even though this “friend” had hurt him, my son could practice compassion and open to the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation instead of negativity and hurt. My son said he thought this “friend” probably had no intention of hurting him. So we talked about the Yang of Compassion, the boundaries that needed to be set to help with relating to this “friend” and the pain that he had caused.
The next day my son went to school with the intention of practicing this Yang compassion for himself. He talked to the “friend” and explained how much the comment from the day before had hurt him and why. He asked the “friend” to stop making derogatory references to his German heritage. The “friend” was quite taken aback and apologized, “I never thought you cared because you never said anything. I totally get it man. Sorry.”
The boy in this story is not my son’s greatest buddy, but we can now remove the quotation marks around friend, as the boundaries needed were set by my son practicing Yang compassion for himself, and the two of them have a much more clear relationship now. I have to say that the whole episode also released a bit of pain with my own story. Knowing that the hurt of the past had resulted in the understanding and acknowledging in the present, and the healing for the future. I have huge gratitude that I have this self-compassion practice, and the knowledge of the Yin and Yang of it.
First published on Moa Compassion Blog Sept 24th, 2019