Classroom Army of One

“Pity and compassion are the same things.”

The class was silent and accepting of whatever this liver-spotted, rude Southern professor spat at them. He was unwavering, an Atheist (which I don’t care, but don’t be a dick.) who chose to focus primarily on religiously-charged literature. On the first day of class, he asked, “Who here is Catholic?” When a couple of students raised their hands, he scoffed, and continued with the lesson. This man was bizarre and unnecessarily abrasive to a group of students who were taking this class mostly as a requirement for their diploma, myself included.

He said it again. “The words, pity and compassion, are the same.” I don’t entirely remember the exact topic that he came across in order to merit the discussion of these two words, however I remember it boiling inside me that this old, angry man was instilling fear into a group of 25 or so students, all too afraid to speak up. He hated our class. I specifically recall walking behind him, conversing with another English professor about how much he loathed teaching us, and how he couldn’t wait for the semester to end. To which, I interrupted with a startling, “Hello!” and since that day lost his favor for the duration of his lessons.

I raised my hand. “I don’t necessarily agree with you.” He looked at me, his liver spots moving seemingly autonomous around his bald, wrinkly head. “‘Scuse me? Look it up.”

“I could look it up, but I’m telling you that it is my opinion that I do not believe those words mean the same things.”

He became visibly frustrated when the girl next to me agreed. He snapped at her like an angry rattlesnake, and she retracted into her desk against the wall. I lost my army. I was, once again, alone.

“They are, in fact, the same. I’m not arguing this.”

“Well I’m not arguing it either, but if you look at most writings, pity and compassion do not have the same connotation, even if, in your opinion, the denotation is the same.”

His liver spots turned as red as his face, and his lips curled down as he sucked in air through his wide, hairy nostrils and I could have sworn steam came out his ears but I was a little distracted wielding my sword of opinion at him.

“Why don’t you read a bible? Jesus pitied the people, that’s why he got himself nailed to a cross.”

I, by no means, would consider myself a religious person. Catholic by birth, confirmed, the whole nine yards, I do not preach myself to be a practicing Catholic. I went to church for my mom’s funeral, and I occasionally take my grandfather, especially on his birthday and holidays. However, in the name of English Literature and all things interpretation, I couldn’t allow this bully to instill the fear of God Knows What into the rest of this class. I couldn’t respect an opinion that he tried to force as fact, and I couldn’t let him win. Not this day.

“Well, let me ask you. If you pitied someone, would you allow yourself to be killed to save them? Or if you felt compassion towards their life, would you allow yourself to be killed?”

He had no words. He was infuriated. He knew he lost. I silently rejoiced in my head while the tension of the other students lifted. He turned his back and continued with the lesson.

He gave me a D on my next paper.

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