This article is sponsored by takepart.com. The story and opinions shared here are strictly my own.
The story I’m about to share is hardly the worst case of bullying anyone has ever heard. But what happened to my sixth grade classmate that day in 1991 most definitely WAS bullying.
I wasn’t the bully. But I was definitely the coward.
I honestly don’t even remember the boy’s name who was being bullied. I’m sure that’s an intentional move by my subconscious to try to erase what happened from my mind. But thankfully, I still remember it. It is shameful to me, but also a reminder that has really stuck with me, and caused me to speak up when I see people treated with a lack of respect and kindness.
The boy in my class was from a poor family. He wore the same 3 shirts and the same pair of jeans, sometimes multiple days in a row. He often looked like he hadn’t had a bath in a few days. For those reasons, he was an easy target for bullies. Some of the boys in the class would frequently loudly exclaim that it wasn’t fair to have to sit near him because he smelled so bad. And on the day I was a total coward, someone had made fun of him, to his face, and in front of the entire class while the teacher was outside of the room, for being so poor. He response was this, “My family may be poor in money but we are rich in love.” Most of the kids laughed. I remember feeling really bad when I heard him say that. Like something inside of me said, “This is so wrong.” And then, very quietly, I started to laugh with the other kids so that I would fit in.
My parents raised me better than that. But I buckled under the pressure and did what I absolutely knew was wrong.
And I still regret that decision. But I know that I can take that regret and turn it into something much more positive. I am proud to say that I made much better decisions when faced with people being unkind to others in middle school and high school. Not saying I was perfect, but definitely much improved. I suppose flying in the face of what is truly right can mark you for life that way. I’m so glad I learned my lesson. And I’m so sad that it came at that boy’s expense.
I want my daughters to understand in the cores of their being the way that people should be treated: with love. And I don’t want them to have a story like mine as their “lesson learned.” It all starts with me, their parent, teaching them how to treat others, and being a role model for how to treat others. It also includes me teaching empathy and understanding, which are critical life skills and ones that will not only serve my daughters well, but will also be of value to the people with whom they interact throughout their lives.
So what can you do to help stop this epidemic of bullying that is ravaging our world? My greatest hope is that you will be the change you wish to see first and foremost. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Value respect in your own home, and teach your kids to be respectful of others.
But you can also make a difference in the next 2 minutes by signing the Take Part Pledge. By signing it, you are standing up for what is right and letting your voice be heard as one who is committed to making a positive change in our schools, and in our communities. Please take a moment to sign the petition below. And after you sign it, PLEASE take a few minutes to talk with your children about what you just did, and why it matters. That conversation could be transformative in their lives. I just had a talk with my daughter, and it pretty much blew me away. Even at 3 1/2, she is tuned in to when others feel left out, and I pray that she feels a conviction to show love and offer true friendship to those individuals. Sign now and then talk to your kids, please. You may be amazed by what they have to say.