Bullies

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They never seem to go away. Have you noticed? They are in schools, at play dates, and in our offices. They are even at our churches (some would argue more so) and community events. Bullies. People who use cruel manipulation to get what they want or bolster their own egos by shutting others down.

I was seven or eight years old. I was at another new school, maybe my 3rd or 4th and I was in 3rd grade. We didn’t have a lot of money, like any, so I was wearing a bright, new-to-me dress we got from donations. It made me feel like a princess, and I liked to twirl. I had to pick someone to be my “buddy” for the day, and I picked a gal named Jennifer. Everything was fine, until lunch when we lined up to go back inside. A big gust of wind came and blew my skirt up. How they laughed, the other children. I was mortified. Completely, and utterly mortified.

I suppose, as an adult, if someone were watching it on some movie, it would seem slapsticky. But, as a seven year old who had a hard enough time “making friends” it was the last thing I needed to feel normal at that school. Isn’t that what kids ever want to feel anyway? Just normal. They want who they are to be accepted as normal. The late, great, Utah Phillips takes issue with the word normal, when his friend scolds his niece and says, “You mean average!” But, growing up, often, we don’t see it that way.

We have a zit. Abnormal. We don’t have the right clothes. Abnormal. We don’t have the right friends. Abnormal. We don’t have the right politics. Abnormal. It takes growing up, some grow up faster than others, to realize that we don’t have to be normal and Utah was right – we did mean average. As a 32 year old adult, I am now comfortable with my politics, I love my friends (who are all proudly anything but normal), am completely comfortable with my thrift store clothes, but I still get annoyed with the zits.

I am also fortunate to have a strong family support group, who through their myriad ways of miscommunication and communication have made it clear that I am loved no matter my mistakes. I have a compassionate family who taught me the importance of compassion and helping others. It took growing up for me to realize and embrace the support group I do have, and I still underestimate their compassion.

My home-state of Michigan is helping with that awkwardness in a recent news story where a self-identified male (that is transgendered) was voted as homecoming king. Despite the other instances where the school has allowed this student to flourish as a male by dressing male in every day dress and graduation dressed, being addressed as male with correct pronouns by teachers, student, and staff a like – this school has drawn the line at Homecoming King, a student vote, because the official registration says female.

And, then there was a recent article in the New York Times about an awkward young man, coming out of his teen years, as a freshman at college. Do you remember what it was like to be a Freshman at college? The first year, all over again, trying to adjust, be on your own, still fit in with a whole new group of people while coming terms with your own identity. For the 25% of us who graduate from college, many say their college friends are their life long friends. But it’s the work to get over those awkward growing up hurdles, because damn it, growing up is hard. This young man, Tyler Clementi, was trying, clearly, to find his own identity as he was growing up gay. His insensitive, maybe suffering from his own esteem issues, roommate broadcast his late night escapades to the world via twitter. Mr. Clementi, insecure in his own being committed suicide. The two teens who collaborated in the effort to make Mr. Clementi’s privacy public will likely be charged as accessories to his death.

They bulled an intelligent kid trying to figure out who he was.

Mona Shores high school is bullying a self-assured teen and student body into conforming to their wishes.

We encounter bullies in all aspects of our daily life when people who are insensitive, rude, or manipulative do things to make us do things we don’t like.

Utah Phillips didn’t like bullies, but he was able to use his humor and wit to chastise the Bum on the Plush while raising the Bum on the Log. We would do better as a society, a citizen in our communities, if we stood up stronger against bullies and insisted on compassion to rule our everyday lives because growing up is hard enough without all the added bullshit to make it harder.

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