The Bully Principle – Lessons from 7th Grade by Ernesto Quiñonez

Ah yes, 7th grade….Do you still owe an apology to someone from your 7th grade life? I certainly owe Al Smith an apology. He moved away before I could drum up the courage. You see, Al Smith loved me. I played flute and he played clarinet in Lakeshore Junior High School band. He would follow me around asking to carry my books. I was equally embarrassed and charmed. Unfortunately, I only showed my embarrassment. To this day, I feel delighted when I remember his devotion. All I did was squeal and run away. One time I organized all of the flute players (nine girls) to turn on cue to stare at his open fly. He ran from the room to zip up and when he returned he was laughing. But …that wasn’t very nice of me, was it?

If no one comes to mind, you may find that Ernesto Quiñonez’s story triggers a memory or two.

I love lots of things about this story. I truly believe storytelling is the antidote to racism and discrimination. This story demonstrates that. However, I want to call attention to the descriptive flourishes he uses (often found in Moth Stories) that may seem like throw away lines but are probably quite intentional. For instance Ernesto describes Mario by saying,

“Mario was big. Did you see the movie Grease when they don’t look like high school kids? Mario was like that. He was big. People would ask if he was a teacher? No! he’s a ninth grader!”

“I was the toast of the 7th graders…I was like the Obama of the 7th grade class.”

“I felt so betrayed by a principle! It was a principle…the way the planets revolve around the sun. It was a principle the way gravity says that what you throw up is going to come down. It was a principle that if you stand up to a bully, he leaves you alone.”

These emphasizers are a great way to enhance the attention your listeners give to some element of your story. And they can add an entertaining image that improves retention.

Brainstorm metaphors or similes to emphasize some detail in your story.

The meeting was an icy terrain where vibrant ideas never moved again

It was my last try. I felt like a dog on my way to the pound. Pick me! Pick me!

He got on the elevator like a rock star with his entourage. He was the President with his aides, a general with loyal minions.


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