When I was growing up, I didn't care at all about grades. They didn't matter. Once, with two weeks left in the year, my 6th grade teacher told me that all I needed to do to get an A in Social Studies was to write a one-page report on Mexico. "Isn't that great!" she exclaimed.
I asked her what grade I would get if didn't write the report. When she told me I'd get a B, I said, "That's above average, right? I'll take it!"
I wouldn't even have minded writing a one-page paper on Mexico. I was just so happy with being above average that I wanted to bask in the glow.
I didn't care about being smart, or being perceived as smart. I was a wannabe jock. As the smallest kid in the class, I would have been thrilled to be just make it onto any junior high school sports team.
So one day, I was sitting at a table with a few other kids, including one of the best athletes in the school. His name was Bruno -- I wouldn't make that up. I felt cool for sitting at the same table as him, even if he did make fun of me every now and then. When I heard Bruno say something stupid, I laughed. I can't recall what Bruno said -- maybe he asserted that Arizona was the capital of California, or vice versa, but it was dumb. I said something like, "Man, don't be stupid."
Just then, our teacher came up behind me and said, "Bob, come with me please." I knew I was in trouble -- I'm not stupid, you know -- but I had no idea why I was in trouble. Had I forgotten to turn in a paper?
After shutting the door in a little room behind us, the teacher could barely control his voice. "You NEVER call someone stupid," he said. "How do you think that makes Bruno feel?"
I said nothing. I thought this guy was crazy. Bruno feels great. He's one of the best athletes in school! He dates cheerleaders!
"Well? How would you like it if someone called you 'stupid'?"
Again, I said nothing. Is being called stupid worse than shrimp, or faggot, or punk, or pussy?
"I'm sorry," I stammered.
"That's better. You need to learn to respect other people."