Stand, you've been sitting much too long;
There's a permanent crease in your right and wrong.
Sly and the Family Stone
I didn't grow until two years after high school. Almost overnight I blossomed into 5'11 and 180 pounds. At graduation I was a puny 5'7, 130.
Not only that. I was what they used to call "a brain." I got straight A's.
I played no varsity sports.
I came from a family without much money … five kids, blue collar dad, stay-at-home mom.
And when I was in 9th grade I was what my grandmother called "chubby."
Oh, and I almost forgot my overbite.
So, I began high school as a short, fat, smart kid with big front teeth, and except for losing my "baby fat" didn't progress much over the next four years.
If ever there were a kid ripe for bullying it was I.
But nothing of the sort ever happened.
I wasn't a big guy like my classmates who played football. I wasn't a tall, good looking guy attracting the girls. And I wasn't even an average guy who could just blend in. The "brains" part saw to that.
But I never once felt odd, or weird, or without friends, or even different. Just the opposite, in fact.
The reason, I think, is because in those days no matter what our differences, we kids were the same, the same where it mattered: inside. And that was because we came from the same place: a family where values were important and right and wrong were, well, right and wrong. Schools did not need a "zero tolerance policy" on those things back then. Our parents already had one.
The point is our sameness trumped our differences. And while kids may have been picked on, it was soon forgotten and never came close to approaching the bullying we hear so much about today, and heard so much about last week.
Whether or not bullying had any direct influence on the actions of the four students who took their own lives, bullying among young people is real … and rampant.
I discussed this with students at the community college last week and all confirmed being or at least witnessing bullying. One young woman said she moved to this area in her junior year and found the local students "positively mean." Another said she was bullied by a school principal almost every day about the way she dressed.
All confirmed that social media had the power to take the bullying to another, intolerable, level. "It's a lot easier to write that stuff than to say it to someone's face," one student said.
Another made an observation that caused me to recall myself at that age, as described above, and also to think this might be something to work on. "Today," he said, "the disenfranchised student has no advocate."
By disenfranchised, he meant any student perceived as different.
Maybe that's a place to begin, then: to identify the disenfranchised and make sure they have support.
And while there's a lot of talk right now about schools having bullying policies and enforcing them, the solution is not going to come from the top down. It has to come from the bottom up, specifically from the students themselves.
Students reaching out to students is what is going to make this better. It's the only thing that can.
A priest told me several years ago about being transferred to a parish where he quickly noticed almost no one knew each other or even seemed to care about each another. So he did something about it. Before mass one Sunday morning, he told the gathering he would not begin the service until every person in the church got up from their seats and hugged a perfect stranger.
It did not go over well, he said. But he stuck to his guns. And after several Sundays, the people really got into the swing of it. Some big, burly guy, he said, would come up to the altar and lift the priest right off his feet. He began calling it "Holy Commotion."
Now, I'm not suggesting the day in public schools begin with "Holy Commotion," although it's not a bad idea, but is it too much to ask students to make it a practice to every day introduce yourselves to a classmate you do not know? And maybe even talk to each other for five minutes or so?
And, like the priest, not back down no matter how weird it feels in the beginning?
If you will give it a shot, students, pretty soon no one will feel disenfranchised. Not when you discover you're all a lot more alike that you thought, which I predict you will.