These past few weeks, I’ve been doing a lot of reading online about the tragic suicides of children who have been bullied. This has been particularly prevalent in the gay community, and it breaks my heart to hear about the suffering that some children endure because they do not fit the mold that society has created. What is even more tragic to me is that many children just don’t see how wrong bullying is, and although they may not be bullies themselves, they perpetuate the negative cycle of energy by standing by in silence while a peer bullies someone else.
I can relate to this. I think I did this myself as a child. I didn’t do it out of malice. I did it out of ignorance and fear. I didn’t want anyone to make fun of me, and I thought if I was friendly to the kids who were singled out, then I would be picked on, too. No child wants to endure taunts and laughter at the time in their lives that they most want to fit in. This doesn’t excuse the behavior, but it does help us to understand why kids remain silent when someone around them is being bullied.
There were children at my grade school who were the targets of bullying behavior. I don’t remember one child well at all. Being a girl, I didn’t pay much attention to the boys in my class until well into sixth grade, and by that time, he was gone. I realize now it was probably because he was bullied so much that his parents placed him in another school. I do remember my 5th grade teacher having a very serious talk with our entire class about this boy and the terrible teasing that some people were inflicting upon him. Mr. R. was a teacher who usually used humor in the classroom, and I usually enjoyed his classes. That day, however, he was livid, and he really let us have it for making this boy’s life a living hell. And even though I didn’t really understand how I had contributed to this since I rarely engaged with any boy in my class, I realize now, as an adult, that cluelessness is really no excuse when someone is in pain. But kids are very self-absorbed, and I certainly was no exception.
I do remember another girl, however, mostly in 7th and 8th grade. She was quiet and nice, and she had a sense of humor, but she was constantly teased because of her weight. She was very heavy, and no one let her forget it. I don’t remember ever calling her names or making fun of her size, but I certainly remember others taunting her and saying mean things. And I am now ashamed to say I did nothing to stop it. I’m sure I probably even laughed about it. I’m not proud to say that now, but it’s true. And I realize now just how miserable this girl must’ve been. I am so, so sorry that I wasn’t a better person then–more mature, more confident, more compassionate.
This is a real dilemma. We are adults now, and hopefully, we ourselves have outgrown this awful, immature behavior. But now we have kids of our own, and it’s our responsibility to make the world not just safe for them, but for all the children around us. How do we help kids to be more compassionate? How do we break this terrible cycle of abuse so that no more children die thinking there is no other way out of it?
I have tried very hard with my own boys to help them understand the importance of love and compassion. Both of my boys have wicked senses of humor; like their father and me, they use sarcasm to get laughs, and it works quite well. But I hope we’ve also been able to instill in them an understanding of when humor is appropriate and when it isn’t. I do doubt myself sometimes, though. I suppose we have to keep the lines of communication open so that we can continue to have these important conversations with our kids. I hope that our boys at least understand that seeing each individual as a divine being only cultivates a more loving environment for everyone.
But as adults, we need to school not just our own children, but those that are around us. A few years ago, I taught a drama class at my boys’ old grade school. The class was for 7th and 8th graders, which everyone knows can be a challenging age. I had several boys in my class, and one day, as we were walking outside to go and do an acting exercise, I heard several of the boys saying things like, “Oh, he’s such a fag.” My heart stopped beating for a second, and then it jumped so far in my throat I could barely breathe. I couldn’t believe what I’d just heard. I grew up in a time when we said, “That’s so gay” in a way that meant it was stupid. It was a completely derogatory thing to say. At the time, I didn’t even know what it meant to be gay, and when I finally understood what homosexuality was, and had met and befriended several gay people, I was ashamed to realize I had used this idiotic phrase as a younger person. But I had never, ever used the term “fag,” and I was absolutely appalled to hear my students say this.
I immediately stopped walking and called all the kids around me. I said, in the most calm voice I could muster, “I just heard a word that I can’t believe I heard. I just heard someone say the word ‘fag’ in a derogatory manner. I don’t care who said it or for what reason, but I’m going to tell you all something right now, and I want you to remember it from now on. I don’t ever, ever want to hear that word in this class again. Calling someone a fag is not funny. It’s a hurtful, awful word, and it’s insulting to a whole group of people who deserve love and respect just as much as anyone else does. Have I made myself clear?”
The whole group was looking at me with huge, surprised eyes. No one answered me. I asked again, “Do you understand?” They all nodded silently, solemnly.
I made an impression that day. Thank God I did it. Maybe I helped someone in the class. Maybe I helped a gay kid feel better; maybe I helped a bully have a moment of compassion. But I know that by standing up and not accepting that as a normal, OK thing, I made a difference.
I hope that you will consider doing this, too. Talk to the kids around you about bullying behaviors. Help them to understand that silence and acceptance of bullying behavior is no better than being an outright bully. If they are being bullied, help them to find resources so that the environment changes. Be clear with them about the importance of love and compassion for all.
Because this is how Creator sees us. We’re all unique, and yet we’re all Children of the Light. We are all Divine. We need to start treating each other that way. Each and every one of us.
Blessings to you all.