There’s a lot of talk these days about bullying. The bad news? It has been around forever. The good news? We’re talking about it. Plenty. Schools are teaching students strategies on how to recognize, report, and prevent being a victim of bullying. It is no longer cool to be a person of intimidation and meanness. And the consequences for such are getting much stiffer.
There are so many aspects of this bullying behavior that my little brain will not solve here. I have seen plenty of intimidation in schools. It isn’t pretty and I have dealt with bullying in some ‘creative’ ways. Career secret? Nope. But I let the little darlings who felt victimized know that on my watch they would be kept safe. And that those individuals who came into the classroom with evil intent would be powerless. I’d like to think I fulfilled that promise.
But last week I was with a group of seventh graders. At the end of the day, once a week, all students come together to strategize ways of addressing the bullying phenomena. An amazing thing happened and I want to share it here. Consider it your ‘feel good’ story of the day.
As the group of 135 kids and teachers started their forum, the focus was on calling one another negative names—often the foot in the door for bullying. One young man in the back of the room got brave. He raised his hand and spoke, “I don’t know why, but some kids have called me retarded.” The teacher asked, “How did that make you feel?” The boy thought a moment and answered, “I felt unimportant.”
Wow. I expected the typical answer of “I felt mad/bad/sad.” But this answer clearly reflected a very wise response.
“Well,” replied the teacher, “You are very important and you have value. We want you to know that.”
And then the boy started crying.
Oh boy, I thought. Here it comes: the giggling and snickering of his peers. This kid is toast. The room, however was still. Except for the boy’s sobs.
And then it happened. Very slowly, a group of boys started to clap. It was an authentic action of honor, for a classmate who was being emotionally naked. Then the applause picked up. It was heart-stopping and heart-warming to witness. It substantiated what I have held as one of my tenets of teaching: kids these days can be so amazing!
Watching the faces of the other adults, I realized that they were as spellbound as I. As I processed this event, which took perhaps four minutes at the most, I began to grasp what really had unfolded.
The young man did not cry when he said he had been called, “retarded.” He started to weep when the teacher told him he was indeed, very important. That he mattered and was worthy.
Don’t we all need to hear this? I once was asked why the students in my classroom tended to be successful. I had to think on that a moment. This was the best I could come up with: “When people are valued, they are empowered to do great things.”
We know that hurt people hurt people. And it is the issue of being hurt, feeling unimportant, and undervalued that lies at the heart of the bullying issue.
I have no empirical wisdom on how to fix this bullying pox on society. But starting a dialogue with youth –one that is rich in authenticity and a climate for honesty–is a must. Especially when hemmed in with kind and sensitive adults.
I will not forget this experience. I am blessed and honored that I was a guest in that school when an ordinary exchange became a ‘holy’ moment.
When a lost lamb was ushered back to the fold by the kindness of the flock.