That darned country music. I might listen and shake my head “yes, that’s right” ( like I spoke about yesterday…remember?” I’d die for her and she lives for me…”) Or I might be crying. Sometimes the songs just make me smile for their ridiculousness …”whiskey for my men…beer for my horses”…”I’m a red-neck girl…” and of course the terribly awful but catchy “Red Solo Cup”. Some songs make me feel like an angry man-hater even though l I am not that at all…think Miranda Lambert waiting by the door with her cigarette and her shotgun…or Carry Underwood bashing windows and keying cars or stomping around stage in six-inch heels. Yes, some songs make me angry because somebody has been done wrong… think almost anything by Taylor Swift. Some of the stories that the disc-jockeys discuss between songs make me mad too. That happened yesterday.
I have heard recently of a show called Bully Beatdown where tormenting bullies are offered $5,000 to go in the ring with Mixed Martial Arts fighters. The concept is clever…let the people who usually do the beating up get knocked down (literally) more than a few notches. I am not certain this will really teach any lessons, or make the bully cease and desist. But he might think about it next time he has the urge to pick on someone weaker. I don’t know. The reason I decided to write about this today is because between songs yesterday the local radio personalities were talking about an obese television anchor in Wisconsin who had received hate mail from a local attorney simply because she is fat. This isn’t really news, is it? Lots of people probably get letters and texts and emails and calls…even face-to-face encounters with ugly people spewing ugly words. Well, what makes this worthy to be mentioned is that the Anchor woman did not ignore the letter like we do…or are so often encouraged to do. She thoughtfully and sincerely responded to it…on the air… and her message was calm, polite and powerful. They made an impact and struck a chord with enough people that I was hearing her words on the radio in Alabama. She had started a discussion by responding and made listeners in her community and mine stop to think about something we often ignore…at least it made this listener think. Jennifer Livingston is the name of the Newswoman… Kenneth Krause is the name of the critical attorney. I recommend that you look up the exact words of both.
A while back I was discussing a movie with a good friend that she had just watched. I don’t know if she would have been compelled to go pay the big bucks at the local theatre to see this movie otherwise, but my friend has made it her life work to counsel people with problems who need a friendly and professional ear. The movie, Bully, is a documentary…it is a real life story. The real and often painful lives of actual children… not actors, not fake interaction…the brutal, honest truth of a serious problem. My friend confessed that she was particularly haunted by one particular scene in the movie. Apparently the child who has been incessantly bullied and the child who IS the bully are meeting together with their Principal in the Principal’s office. The Principal has gathered the boys together to help them “put aside their differences”… and this Wise Administrator in charge of the daily lives of many children demands that the boys shake hands and learn to get along. One boy extends his hand in seeming obedience to her authority. He appears comfortable with this negotiation… he appears more than willing to be agreeable. The smile on his face is not the shy smile of a fellow who wants to put aside any misunderstanding and start over in good faith with good will. It is a confident smirk that the meeting went precisely as he expected and the conclusion was just what he was hoping for. It was as painless as he thought that it would be. He heard what was expected of him, and he will do his best to appear cooperative… when no one else is around. He understood her command completely…basically she doesn’t want to deal with this again…and he will try to see that she won’t. He will do exactly what she has told him to do… at least as far as she knows. He will be more careful, at least for a while, to mind his “p’s and q’s”… while she or anybody that can report back to her is watching.
The other boy is not so readily agreeable to ” shake hands and learn to get along”. He appears to be weighing his options and looks as though he may be defiant of the Principal’s order. Only reluctantly and after several moments of thought does he raise his hand for a less than enthusiastic but obligatory shake.
Then after “Cooperative” boy makes his exit, “Reluctant” boy begins to tell the Princi PAL a litany of things that he has had to endure at the hands of the Handshake Buddy. The bullied boy tries to explain that he does not believe that a handshake is going to change anything or make anything better. It is extremely likely that the bullied child has told other adults/ authorities/ teachers/ bus drivers… anybody that could and should help him only if they would…what has happened to him. It is likely that the boys parents have even had conferences, or at least requested them to address their concerns for their son’s well-being… if not his very safety. But, instead of constructive words of wisdom that may actually help the situation, the boy is told that he will have to try harder to get along… and this Adult in Charge leaves the boy to be further bullied.
Some adults and Arrogant Bullies love a person who appears to listen and acknowledge that they fully understand what they are being told…and shake their head yes and tuck their tail and say “You’re right! You’re so right! It is me! I am the problem! I deserve it… whatever you think it is I have done…whatever you want to do to me. I am small, I am weak, I am fat, I am without power. I am different in some way…so I am less than you. Think the KKK… think Germans or Asians who lived in the USA during WWII….think nerds… or people we judge because of their piercings or tatoos or lack thereof…or people with dirty hair or ragged clothes….maybe they are at the store… or pushing a shopping cart down the sidewalk…or laying on a park bench covered in newspaper…or holding up a sign asking for cash. Maybe they are an attractive, well-employed member of a community that happens to be heavier on the scale than someone thinks they should be. Should the outcast, the down-trodden, the disenfranchised, the different say, “Thank you for bringing that to my attention. I didn’t know that!” I assure you…as Jennifer Livingston will assure you…people that are not “PERFECT” or at least perfectly normal already know where they fall short of “the mark” in the mind of critics. EVERY human being falls short of the mark! Of course some people are truly evil or delusional and they believe they are perfect…but most of us are already VERY VERY aware of our “problem areas”… but is a big butt really a problem? I tend to think that a big head is WAY more offensive and a much larger problem! A flawed body or face is much more attractive and desirable to me than an ugly attitude any day. And is being a nerd really a problem? Bill Gates doesn’t think so…and beautiful but brainless people sure do love their smart-phones and I-pads.
So 1)there is the country music channel discussion… and 2) the movie discussion… and 3)a while back I took my son to the doctor and the doctor’s assistant started talking about…you guessed it…Bullies. This man was commenting on what a nice, big, strong kid my son was. He said that he would be fantastic in Tae-Kwon-Do because of his athletic build and muscular legs. Then the man started talking about his own son who is about the same age as my child… and sadly his son has some physical disabilities. His son has a birth defect that affects his muscles so that he has a hard time lifting his legs… walking or running. The man said that he is so thankful that his son has been blessed with a good group of friends that watches out for him because otherwise he would be fodder for being bullied. I was grateful for his son that he had that type of peer support… but what about all the people who don’t?
I saw a TERRIBLE TERRIBLE TERRIBLE you-tube video where a big, over-weight kid was being bullied by a pack (yes, like hyenas or wolves…a little mob of boys). They were jeering him and heckling him and the “pack” leader came up and gave the big kid a push. But the big kid did not cower or back down. The big kid picked the bully up over his head (think WWF)… but they were not standing on a springy mat like pro-wrestlers do their falls and flips…this was on a concrete slab… it looked like somewhere at a school…where were the teachers? The principal? The kids to stop the escalation? For many this scene had a good and just ending. For me this scene had a horrific ending. What I would have liked to see transpire from the full body dead lift over the big kid’s head would be, the big kid hold the little bully up and let the other bullies know that he was REALLY REALLY strong and that he was tired of taking it…he might have even said to the kid in his grasp and the other kids watching, “If I wanted to, I could crush you like a twig… but that isn’t who I am. I am better than that. I don’t hurt people just because I can.” And my fixed ending would have ended with the big kid mercifully lowering the little bully gently to the ground and the big kid walking away with dignity. It may not have stopped future bullying or taught the hard-headed punks anything…but the big kid would have remained the no-question good guy. But of course, my wished- for ending isn’t what happened, because this is real life and real kids that watch too much TV and who are told by society to stand up for themselves and are told that to NOT retaliate …to not DEFEND oneself with violence if necessary is somehow without honor. So the real ending was: the big kid picked up the little bully over his head and slammed him HARD onto the concrete ground… and miraculously the little bully got up. He could have died, or been paralyzed… no joke. And then what would have happened to the big kid who defended himself? What would the rest of his life look like because he had defended himself and had enough? Juvenile detention? probably at best. But the little kid did staggeringly get up… but he was hurt. Badly. Is that good or just? Really? It truly makes me sick for both sets of kids.
You see, the bully learned that behavior somewhere… maybe on tv… maybe in his peer group..maybe his family…sadly maybe even his church. But the bullying and taunting and ugly anti-social interaction went un-noticed and un-checked by people with a responsibility to point out that his behavior was WRONG and that it would only lead him down a bad and possibly destructive road. And the bullied kid, who obviously starts out as the victim, might become so frustrated that nobody noticed or cared enough to help that he takes matters into his own hands. Sometimes that means suicide… sometimes that means loading an automatic weapon and going to a school or place of employment and going on a rampage.
Foster The People had a popular song …an oddly popular song… called “Pumped Up Kicks”. The fact that it played on the radio a hundred times a day for several months is kind of disturbing…my kids liked it…it has a catchy tune and a clever sound…but it is about a messed up kid who finds a gun in his dad’s closet…”He’s coming for you!…All the other kids with the pumped up kicks, you better run, better run, out run my gun…you better run, better run, faster than my bullet.” In case you are wondering, as I was, “pumped up kicks” means expensive tennis shoes…so the uncool kid with the cigarette is going to go to his school with his daddy’s gun to shoot the cool kids… and they better run. And that was a popular song. Wow. HHHmmm. Troubling?
The Doctor’s assistant that had the son who was not able to run, appealed to my son to take up for people who may be bullied. I have told all of my children this at one time or another. Based on the things that they say sometimes and the way that they treat each others at times I am not certain that the message is engrained yet… but I KNOW it is NOT my place to ignore it. I am not going to throw up my hands and say “they just don’t listen!” or “They are just kids…or just boys being boys!” Or justify it as ugly pre-teen years. I am not going to let them, if I hear them or see them, say things or do things that are cruel. Hopefully they will not ever be a witness to weaker person’s mistreatment by a bully. And hopefully they will never be a bully or be bullied. But if they are, they are NOT to ignore it! If they are worried about their own safety they are to find a TRUSTED adult and seek help. It is our responsibility as fellow Human Beings to not allow evilness to reign free without trying our best to stop it. We cannot ignore the mistreatment of other people. To see someone being wronged, whether it is physically hurt or mentally taunted, or cheated or stolen from or talked ugly to…to see it and ignore it is to be a guilty party. Not standing up and speaking out is an endorsement that we think that the behavior is tolerable. If the behavior is intolerable, then we should NOT TOLERATE IT!
I make that plea with a great degree of guilt that has haunted me for years. I am not without fault… There are several instances as a child that I know that my unkind words were hurtful to others. There was a chubby girl in 4th grade who I said something mean to, and a girl who wore the same clothes over and over that heard me talking about it with another friend, and a really tall skinny boy with crazy hair…I don’t think he heard me say anything, but I talked behind his back. I have made fun of people… and laughed when others have. I have been petty and cruel and I am ashamed of my ugly thoughts and actions. But the two things that stand out most weren’t the things that I did, but the things that I didn’t do. I have a pretty poor memory for detail about things that happened to me as a child, but I can remember clearly being the new kid in a new town. I was in 9th grade and I had just moved from a small town in Tennessee to Plano, Texas. I was sitting in the school’s library minding my own business, probably reading a book when a gigantic boy walked up to a little tiny boy in a ROTC uniform. I don’t remember the words the big boy said, I’m not sure I even heard them at the time… but I remember my heart racing just from seeing the horrible look on the big boys face and the fear in the little boys face. I didn’t know either boy… but they were both in either 9th or 10 grade as those were the only grades at my new highschool. It seems that the big boy grabbed the little one and got in his face… maybe even picked him up off of the ground. And it happened. And I watched. And I didn’t do anything and I didn’t tell anyone. I wanted desperately to tell that big boy to leave the little boy alone… but I didn’t.
And then when I was in 10th grade I took Geometry at this same school. There was a boy who sat right behind me and everyday he would try to talk to me. I would talk back a little because I wasn’t rude… I just wasn’t very thoughtful. I was more interested in laying my head down across my arms and sleeping. The class was right after lunch after all, and I had been up really early for “before school” basketball or track practice. Listening to the boy, or learning about him and his family and life was just not a big priority. He wasn’t popular or good-looking… but I truly didn’t care about that… and I wasn’t trying to be mean… I just wasn’t trying to be nice either. I was stupid and selfish.
The next year, our Junior Year, we were at the Senior High School. This boy from Geometry class would every now and then ask me if I wanted to have lunch with him. I always had an excuse… albeit, I think usually, a legitimate excuse. Suffice it to say, I never went out of my way to say, “I can’t today… but I can on Thursday… or we could go ride bikes… or why don’t we take a walk and just talk after school? I never said any of that. I’m not saying that this boy was bullied in an openly aggressive way… but he was likely made fun of by the “cool” kids. Or, at best, ignored. He had thinning, greasy hair and bad skin and terrible posture. But he had a really nice smile… and he smiled at me whenever he saw me. He tried to be a friend much more than I did. He wore his smile at school even though I think he wasn’t very happy and I think his home life was rough.
The next year, our Senior Year, he killed himself.
Nobody did it to him… or maybe everybody did it to him. I didn’t kill him, but maybe I could have been the friend that made a difference. I have a ton of guilt about this… and PLEASE don’t tell me that I shouldn’t feel guilty. I SHOULD. Anybody that sees a person who is friendless or neglected or mistreated and ignores it…that doesn’t go out of their way to try to make a difference SHOULD blame themselves. Does it take time? Energy?…Are there other things that are more interesting? Would it be easier to ignore and just say, “Just go figure it out… go get along with your world!”….is that what we say to people who are reluctant to stick out their hand and trust that the world is going to be fair?
My wish and my prayer is that ALL of us think about being the “Good Samaritan”. Jesus’ words: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For when I was hungry you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and cloth you? when did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed…I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” Matthew 26:31-41, 45-46
What we do, and what we don’t do are more important than we may ever know. I don’t want to turn my face away. I don’t want to cross to the other side of the street and ignore the person who needs me…or put my head down and close my eyes and fail to care… We all may be in need… there are times when I am in need. We all may be hurting… there are times when I am hurting… but other people need us and we might discover that OUR NEED might be to help…and OUR HURT might not seem so painful when we aren’t focused on it. Please, Lord don’t let me miss opportunities to talk to the person who is trying to talk to me…and don’t let me watch horrible scenes without raising my voice in protest.
Please. Let’s not be silent in the face of injustice. Let’s not let the weak be bullied until hopeless. Please. Let’s take care of each other. Let’s start at home…with ourselves and our own.