On a warm summer’s night, the pregnant wife of a U.S. Senator went about preparing dinner for her husband. She was carving a chicken cutlet when the knife slipped and cut the surface of her pinky. Two drops of crimson fell; one on her white apron, and the other on to her blue dress. In that moment, she knew she would die giving birth to a President of the United States. She saw kind eyes filled with the color of Hawaiian waters, and a loving heart that beat with steadfast honest.
This vision frightened the future mother, not for her own sake, but for her son’s. His beliefs would be tested at every turn. If he was going to have any chance at maintaining them, her husband must never know of their son’s destiny. For though she loved her husband, he was not the same forward-thinking man he had been on their Wedding Day.
When a boy was born seven months later, his mother named him Cerulean Carver Cunningham without ever seeing his face. Cerulean’s father, while present at his birth, was absent much of his early life. By his mother’s wishes, Cerulean was raised by a Geraldine K. —a nanny of countless years, and no last name—who was rumored to possess magical powers. She affectionately called him “Cer,” and took it upon herself to teach him everything. She led Cer from one Smithsonian museum to the next answering questions about art, technology, and justice. Each new answer brightened Cer’s eyes, and encouraged more questions.
By the time Cer entered kindergarten, he was way ahead of his peers in his knowledge of right and wrong. This gap only increased with the grades. He attended a Prep School where everyone dressed the same, but teachers noted that he remained separate from the other kids. He preferred reading to sports, and refrained from name-calling and acts of aggression. It might seem like no surprise then that bullies were attracted to Cer like lions to a limping zebra.
“You think you’re better than us?” they said.
“I never really thought about it,” Cer said, and the bullies took this as sarcasm. They didn’t like sarcasm. For several weeks, hardly a day went by when Cer wasn’t being pushed or punched. When he finally worked up the courage to tell Geraldine of the problem, she was furious.
“I’ll cast a wedgie spell on them,” she said with child-like giddiness.
So, the next day she took Cer to school and compelled the bullies to wedgie themselves in front of the class. This made Cer laugh along with the rest of his peers, but he wasn’t proud of himself.
“Now I’m the bully,” he told Geraldine later. “What I want is for everyone to be friends.”
“I’m glad to hear you say that,” said his nanny, looking mostly pleased, “If that’s the case, then the best way to become friends with your enemies is to walk in their shoes and learn how they feel.”
So, the next day, Cer set about studying his bullies. He knew they were at their wildest during English class: making jokes, pulling hair, throwing notes, or any number of inane tortures, but had never thought “Why?” To start, he searched for patterns in their behavior. “What set them off?”
The answer was easier to find than he expected. The bullies acted out whenever they were asked to read aloud; leading Cer to conclude that the bullies suffered reading difficulties.
Armed with this new information and a brief knowledge of reverse psychology, Cer asked the bullies for help with his English homework. This perplexed the bullies greatly. They all said, “no,” knowing that Cer was the best student in the class.
Then their outlook changed…
“He thinks he can use us?” they said. “We’ll use him.” They went back to Cer and accepted his offer, smiling as if they had won.
The following afternoon, the intense study sessions began smoothly just as Cer predicted. The bullies and Cer exchanged questions and answers freely, since neither party could admit to being the tutor or the student. In effect, Cer trapped the bullies into competing for academic success. Their grades improved, and the whole class was much better off.
In President Cerulean Carver Cunningham’s memoir, “Portrait in Blue,” he credited “The Great Bully Debacle,” as one of the defining moments in his life. He thanked “bullies” for “instructing him in conflict negotiations and hostage situations, while teaching him that one can outwit and wit at the same time.”
Written by Alex Schattner (8/29/12)