A Christmas gift taught me that we do not have to hurt others before they can hurt us. It is a lesson well learned, and it came in a child’s book.
The book was given to me when I was in first grade, just two years after its first publication. I still have the book. My first grade teacher gave the book to me for Christmas and signed her name along with mine.
I wondered, when I read the story, if she chose it just for me or if it was given to all other first graders that year. Sometimes Alexander reminded me of myself. He had not yet learned how not to hurt others before they could hurt him.
Alexander was a kitten who thought his job was to hurt others before they had a chance to hurt him. Buzzy Bee, Fat Hen, White Goose, and Yellow Cat all received his attempts at hurting them by responding in kind. Alexander received a sting on his nose, a peck on his head, a bite on his tail, and a swat from a cat because he felt it was his DUTY to hurt these creatures before they could hurt him.
One day, Yellow Cat swatted at Alexander and sent him rolling along the ground. Yellow Cat is Alexander’s great-grandfather. He told Alexander to reverse his plan: try to not scare or hurt others before they hurt him. Amazingly, this approach worked wonders. None of the creatures bothered him at all as he went about the rest of his day.
Alexander learned that refusing to pick a fight is the best way to have friends and get along with others. None of the creatures who hurt him earlier bothered with him when he chose to not pick a fight. He did not need to hurt others before they hurt him.
I learned not to hurt others before.
Many years later, I picked up that book and read it to one of my kids. When you’ve got a chip on your shoulder, it reflects in the way you respond to others. It also affects the way others respond to you. I needed the lesson again, and so, I thought, did one of my kids. We snuggled together on the couch and I read the story from cover to cover. We did not talk about the story or about Alexander’s problem. I just read the story. That was all.
I’ve seen adults act like Alexander. Sometimes I’ve felt the arching of my back and the urge to hiss at someone, just like Alexander. Every once in a while I pick up this tattered book and read it again. It’s been sixty years, and I have never forgotten the unspoken lesson in the story.
If you’re interested in getting a copy of this book, it is still available.
Click on the book to go to the link.