When I was in 6th grade, a girl used to tell me nearly every day that I was unpopular and my nose was too big for my face.
I remember when we went to Science Camp that year, the teachers (in an effort to help us all branch out, I'm sure) placed me in a cabin without any of my close friends (I only had two, so it wasn't hard). There was a rule, at Science Camp, that you weren't supposed to go anywhere alone. Always the buddy system. I was a little different at that age, I know that. I dressed a little different, did my hair a little different and had some serious quirks going on (and this is wayyyy before the age when Zooey Deschanel made it cool to be quirky). But different or not, no 12-year-old deserves to feel stressed about the buddy system because she's afraid nobody will want to be her buddy.
One afternoon, all my cabin-mates ran off to lunch without me. On purpose? I have no idea. But even if it wasn't, it didn't feel any better that they forgot about me. By the time I got to the mess hall for lunch all by myself, I was crying because I was afraid I'd get in trouble for breaking the buddy-system rules. And my jeans were dirty because I had tripped in the dirt while trying to run to catch up with everyone (I never grew out of the tripping habit, let's be honest about that part). Admittedly, my experiences and lack-of-oh-so-desirable-popularity were on the mild end of the bully spectrum. But that's not the case for everyone.
I remember a girl named Annie.
In 5th grade, there was a girl named Annie (real name changed here) who was mercilessly picked on every day because she was different. You'd think that, as somewhat of a misfit myself, I would have been understanding and befriended Annie. But like most kids, I desperately wanted to be cool. So I mostly avoided the issue. But I remember once, though, when all the kids plotted against Annie. Do you remember the crack-the-whip game? Where you all held hands in a line and the leader ran around in zig-zaggy lines, until the people at the end could barely hang on and you all inevitably collapsed in the grass?
I don't know who started it, but the plan was to invite Annie to play crack-the-whip. Annie never got invited to anything, so they knew she'd play. But the plan was to make Annie stand at the end of the line, and when it got going really fast, to let her go and watch her go flying. Like I said, I wasn't always the most upstanding kid...but every budding little piece of compassion in my young heart knew we couldn't do that to Annie.
I made sure I was there, when the game started. Annie did accept the invitation, like we all knew she would. And then I did the only thing I could think of to do -- I made sure I was second-to-last in line. I held hands with Annie, and there was no way in hell I was going to let her go. It was all very anti-climactic, in the end. The line went faster and faster, I held on to Annie for dear life, and eventually we all collapsed in the grass like normal. For some reason, nobody gave me a hard time about it. Nobody asked why I ruined the plan. We all just wandered off to other recess activities.
Was I Annie's best friend after that, in true Hallmark-movie fashion? No. I think I just went back to my normal approach of ignoring the issue and trying (usually in vain) to be one of the cool kids. It'd be a few more years down the road before I was gutsy or kind enough to worry much less about what the other kids would think about me if I consistently stood up for the underdog.
Adults also have a problem with bullying.
It happens in the workplace, it happens in phone conversations with friends, it happens in blogs and emails and Facebook posts and text messages and whispers at parties. It's about fashion, lifestyle, sense of humor, hair, body type, life choices, social awkwardness, political preferences, etc. Sometimes it's about people we know in person, and sometimes it's about celebrities and did-you-see-so-and-so's-body-at-the-Oscars-oh-my-gosh-she-looked-so-terrible.
We might not be making face-to-face comments about each other's noses or plotting to let go of Annie's hand during a playground game of crack-the-whip, but our comments and actions still, in essence, leave some awkward, scrawny little kid tripping in the dirt at Science Camp and crying because she doesn't have enough friends to help her obey the buddy system rule. Remember, you can love yourself without hating other people.
The public conversation about children being bullied has grown in recent years, as it should. No child should feel unsafe or unloved by their peers.
Shouldn't we say the same for adults? Then let's watch what we say. Let's watch how we treat each other.
First, because it's the decent thing to do. Second, because how can we expect our children to be any better if we're just as bad?
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------Do you have your own experience with bullying, as a child or an adult, online or offline? Leave a comment, OR...write your own post and add this button using the code below. And make a little promise to be nice to everyone, always!