If you ask a kid these days what's the number one issue they hear about in school, they'll usually say bullying. Then they might follow it with the school acronym. Around here it's: P.R.I.D.E. (personal responsibility is a daily expectation.) It's spoken over the PA by the principal, the whole school shaking with his thunderous, authoritative, almost militaristic voice. He speaks, the kids listen. The parents are appreciative. They don't remember this even being on the charts in their school systems growing up. In fact, if we were bullied, we were taught to hide it. We'd done something to deserve it.
Shame on us. These days, it seems like schools have an awareness toward interpersonal relations that is far more evolved than what it was not so long ago. Think of all the playground scenes from movies of yore with kids picking on each other, huge brawls breaking out, a school marm sending the wrong kid home with his book-bag to his Grapes of Wrath homefront, a rabid dog, a father on the front porch with a bottle of moonshine. Heck, even Opey got bullied on the Andy Griffith Show. In those days you hid it, or you got even. Which meant you probably got sent home again.
Now the kids are taught to report bullying as if they've witnessed a drug deal. There are serious repercussions. They even have bullying classes, wherein they're taught to take a stand for themselves by saying, "That's not appropriate," then tell a teacher. They're taught to diminish it by using humor, "Wow-- THAT felt really good. Thanks for the compliment," and then tell a teacher. Or ignore it, and then tell a teacher.
I recently taught a fifth grade class and added this to the bullying issue: "Just remember," I said, "even if someone says something really mean, no one can actually make you mad or cry or feel guilty. Our emotions are always our choice. There's no such thing as an emotional victim. Not that pain isn't real. And if someone hits you, well that's another story. You can't control a bloody nose. But emotionally, it's different."
I've been crossing the country sharing this message with people who often seem like this is new news. I like to say, "What if someone told you that emotions are your choice when you were ten years old? Wouldn't you have lived your life differently?" The heads nod.
Webster's defines a victim as such:
n. 1. A living being sacrificed to some deity, or in the performance of a religious rite; a creature immolated, or made an offering of.
2. A person or thing destroyed or sacrificed in the pursuit of an object, or in gratification of a passion; as, a victim to jealousy, lust, or ambition.
3. A person or living creature destroyed by, or suffering grievous injury from, another, from fortune or from accident; as, the victim of a defaulter; the victim of a railroad accident.
So nowhere does ol' Noah talk about choice. He seems to imply that "grievous injury" is both emotional and physical, as in being slain on an altar, or being jealous, lustful, ambitious. But nowhere does this definition come with choice. I'd like to take a look at this for a moment. Here's the context:
Recently, I was at a baseball game. The coaches were adults. The players were in middle school. In this sporting system, it is up to the coaches of the opposing team to name the MVP for their competing team. I think this is a grand idea. What a good way to show the players that we can be opposing forces and also supportive at the end of the competition. That people can be your champion even if they are "the enemy" because there's no REAL enemy in sports. It's a game. The human spirit is above such small-mindedness. The human spirit is ultimately about the positive, yes? Right? Right?
And when the coach from the other team announced the home team's MVP, he said, knowing full well that all the players were boys, "Let's give it to the girl on first base." And all the kids from both teams laughed and some people in the stands too, and that kid, whose hair was a bit on the longish surfer side of things, went to receive his MVP medal with a look of dismay and embarrassment in his face.
This is a kid who lets things like this roll right off him. Who makes a point to see the glass half full. Who happens to like his hair a little long. But if it was a rule to have it short, he'd happily comply. He's not trying to make a point, after all. It's just a matter of preference. It's a free country, isn't it? But that look of dismay came from real pain. Because when you're a kid, and an ADULT slams you one, it's confusing. You didn't know that adults could be bullies. That's not being spoken over the school PA system...
Think about it: how is this different than saying, "Give it to the fat kid on first base." Or the "faggot." And what if the kid ran more on the sensitive side of things? What then?
The next day, the kid came to his game with short hair. I was sorry for him. I was sorry for the people who laughed. But mostly, I was sorry for that coach. Because he took a situation in which he was given an opportunity to practice grace, to lift up someone who'd done a good job, and recognize him even if he was for a time, considered the opposition. He had an opportunity to make the world a better place just then, and be a living example of kindness, positivity, integrity. But not only did he disregard his charge as role model and responsible adult, he gave a gift and took it away at the same time by trumping praise with judgment. Disapproval. And yes, sexism.
He should have been sent to the principal's office. Instead I'm sending him here to The Huffington Post and to my blog, THESE HERE HILLS. Because in these here hills, and maybe in yours too, adults can act worse than kids. And I think that in that case, kids have every right to apply what they learn in bullying class, and tell a teacher. And that repercussions follow. And with teenage suicide being what it is, that's what I mean by repercussions. Coach.
Lighten up, you say? It was just a joke? The world can't always be fair.
No. I will not lighten up.
I'll say this instead: Grow up. Or maybe in a language you might understand better: Man up. Or in the principal's resounding voice: Four letters: P.R.I.D.E.
But most of all, coach, thank you for giving that kid a teaching opportunity-- to practice the pure fact that no one can make him feel bad. If he gets his hair cut, well...as unfortunate as it is that he changed his personal preference based on public humilitiation brought on by adult bullying...his emotions around it are still his choice.