Flashback Feeling: Guilt by Association


What was wrong with these people? I was irritated, frustrated and uncomfortable. After some thought, I recognized the feeling –that squirmy, uncomfortable, guilty-by-association sensation. It took me right back to classrooms of my youth when other students were misbehaving and I, along with others, was not. I was remembering, at a visceral level, how it felt to be chastised and lumped in with a group of miscreants, when I was doing nothing wrong. And that’s how I felt in the Sistine Chapel.


Entering the Vatican Museum


En route to the Sistine Chapel via the Hall of Maps

The guide book noted that, after wandering through the Vatican Museum, we would know when we arrived at the Sistine Chapel because the room would be hushed and everyone would be staring at the ceiling. This wasn’t precisely accurate. The volume wasn’t loud, per se, but people were definitely talking–some at full volume. And I fully understood, and was guilty of, voicing aloud awe and wonder with my family. “Oh, did you see that?  What is he holding? What is that panel about? Look at that amazing detail…” In the presence of such an amazing piece of art, it was natural to want to share.


This is NOT my picture. I googled it–but look at all the people taking pictures!!!

But then the man with one of the worst jobs in the world got on the microphone and said, “Silencio! Silence, please. No pictures.” He repeated this in multiple languages. Chagrined by my whispering contribution to the chatter, I hushed. But I was astonished as, immediately after the announcement, the chatter around me began again.  It barely diminished, if at all, and cameras were still clearly in use.  The man with the microphone repeatedly approached individuals in the crowd, reminding them that pictures were not allowed. And when a young man in front of me stretched his arms out and openly positioned his iPad to take a better picture, I wanted to admonish him and lead him from the room.  You are being afforded a privilege here! This isn’t a right!  Show some respect! If you can’t follow the rules, get out!

We stayed in the chapel for quite some time and the man made his announcement again and again to no effect. He was essentially ignored, as people talked and took pictures as they liked. After we left, I muttered to my daughter, only partly joking, “There need to be consequences. Maybe they should hire Sistine Chapel bouncers.” I had tourist shame–I was lumped, once again, with a group of insubordinates and I was amazed by how fully I recognized the feeling, and how powerfully I disliked it.

I’ve since thought about this experience a lot.  And I wonder, uneasily, if my stern reaction to a rowdy classroom has ever sparked this same feeling in those students who were behaving.  Have I been clear and consistent enough with my consequences for those who are disruptive? How do I use this experience, this trip down an emotional memory lane, to shape my future reactions with all students in mind, when part of a class takes a detour to the wild side?  I’m not sure, but I know it will be in my mind as I enter the classroom later this month.

4 thoughts on “Flashback Feeling: Guilt by Association

  1. Bernadette says:

    I like how you translate this experience from your life to your classroom. I understand your discomfort. So hard to know what to do about it


  2. Sue says:

    It’s great to imagine your school classroom filled with first graders beside the Sistine Chapel with all its beauty. I see you between the two images with your mouth open and tears rolling down your face. Such fun to keep up with your writing and your life.


  3. mbhmaine says:

    Hoping there won’t be many tears! I could empathize with the man though…


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