Today is Unity Day, and it seems such a shame that we even need to have such a day. As someone who has been bullied on and off for her entire life, I am grateful that an organization is challenging our culture. People are taking this seriously now, which is a welcome change from the way it used to be. Remember hearing that you just needed to “suck it up?” I would hear that, and worse from adults other than my parents and from my classmates. As if what the bullies did was my fault.
Let me tell you: It wasn’t. It wasn’t then, and it isn’t now. But habits are hard to break, so when I run across a bully, I feel the need to curl in upon myself just as I did in the schoolyard when this kid came up to me and slapped me across the face because I was fat.
Bullies make you feel that they do what they do because you make them do it. Call them what you will: verbal abusers, emotional manipulators, physical abusers, control freaks… they are all bullies. Guess what? They are also cowards.
My mentors said many times, “If you stand up to them, they will back down. They’re cowards at heart.” They were right. How did I stop the bullying when I was in elementary school? By showing those who would tease and condescend to me that I would not be hurt by their words. In fifth or sixth grade (I can’t remember now), I was hit by a SEPTA bus on Frankford Avenue in Philadelphia. It went through a red light as I was crossing on the green. Whack! I blacked out for a few seconds, Mom came to get me, and I was basically fine. I went back to school on Monday, and soon everyone knew what had happened to me.
So, of course a kid had to ask me if I totaled the bus.
My response? “Sure, you should see it!” I think I said something about it being mangled.
The kids around us laughed, but they weren’t laughing at me. They were laughing at him because he “got burned.” That’s not what they said then, but that’s what kids would say now (I think; I’m not up on the latest lingo.). That was the last time that kid made fun of me. Come to think of it, that was the last time anyone made fun of me until Middle School.
Ah, Middle School… What a nightmare.
When I was teaching, I was a witness to a bullying incident. The kids had just finished reading Night, by Elie Wiesel. One boy said to another, who happened to be Jewish, “I wish your family had been put in the ovens.” The victim tried to laugh it off and tell him to [insert expletive of your choice here], but I wasn’t having that. The bully ended up apologizing profusely to the victim after I got done getting him to see that what he said was deplorable.
Today, Positive Peer Pressure is an anti-bullying program started by 19-year-old Matthew Kaplan to stop bullying in middle schools. So far, he has worked with over 4,600 students, according to CNN. Instead of looking for ways to make yourself feel better about yourself by putting others down, you build others up and protect them from those who would do otherwise. I think the era of pushing the nerd into his locker and shutting the door might be over. (Beware those who try that, for you never know if that kid is a black belt in martial arts. You’d be surprised.) I think that it is less cool now to torture someone in text messages or via social media. However, kids are still cruel. It must be some sort of right of passage thing.
I hope you’ll acknowledge Unity Day, even if you were in the “in crowd” and don’t know what it is like to be the target of someone’s cruelty.
Note: I wrote this post in one sitting, so if there are grammatical errors, please accept my apology.