Well Intended / Video plea a stark image of bullying's toll
Last Friday, it was hard to miss the video of a local girl, Alye, who says she struggles with bullying in her middle school. Her video, "Words are Worse than Sticks and Stones," was posted on YouTube and then picked up by our local news sites and blogs. It flickered across my Facebook page, then haunted me all weekend.
In her apparent missive for help, she displays crayon-printed signs detailing the cruel names she says she is called daily. Students and adults alike have posted encouraging comments below her video, which had been viewed more than 10,000 times as of Monday. A few apparent classmates -- whose comments were promptly removed -- echoed the insults she reported, seeming to confirm to the rest of us the validity of her apparent despair.
I promptly phoned my daughter, who was staying with her father last weekend, to talk to her about Alye's video. She attends the same school and quickly recited all the rules for bullying that she has been taught. Her voice revealed her irritation at my concern. "I am not bullied, and I would never partake in bullying!" She assured me, before I could ask. "One of the things they tell us to do if we're being bullied," she added, "is to tell people. Maybe that is what Alye is doing."
When I was in middle school, a new girl moved in. Kate had silky black hair and beautiful long eyelashes. We called her "spider eyes." One afternoon, I saw her fall off her bike while my mom was driving me to a ballet lesson. The next day, in the girls' bathroom, I recounted her fall to a friend and we laughed while applying our Dr. Pepper lip smackers in the bathroom mirror. To my horror, Kate walked out of the stall and washed her hands in silence. She wore a large bandage on her knee.
That wasn't really me. I wasn't like that. But that day, I was. That day, I didn't do the right thing. I wasn't neutral. I caused her harm. I hurt her.
I was usually a good kid. I got good grades. I worked at a wheelchair sports camp on spring break. I went to church. I invited everyone to my parties. I was nice to nerds. So,why would I hurt Kate like that?
We ask the school to do more. We're outraged that this could happen here. We're quick to cite the administrators' salaries and the resources we pour into the education program in our safe town.
Do we consider our own role in exhibiting compassion?
We have good kids; we're raising children with the tools to succeed out there in the world beyond their schools and our little town. But are we teaching them to be kind? The best of them are going to be tempted to tease. The sweetest child might join into the cruel nonsense for the sake of her own popularity.
Do we model civility and kindness?
Do we laugh at the woman who jogs by with the insufficient sports bra? Do we lose our patience with the grocery checker? Do we ignore people we haven't met yet? Do we go out of our way for those who come into our lives? o we err on the side of kindness? Do we reach out beyond our comfort to be inclusive? Do we smile at strangers?
Our community is not formed by the scaffold of policy but by drivers on Post Road. We are not the sum of our programs, systems and rules; but we make up the queue at Balducci's and the post office. We are the people who manifest and shape our town. We give to charity, we pay our taxes and we obey the laws. But do we take the opportunities that present themselves every day to improve the lives of others? Not some distant illusive strangers; what do we do for those right in front of us?
We teach our kids to raise money for those who are hungry, but what do they do about the kid in gym who is picked last for floor hockey? Do we remind them to sit at the table with the lonely girl? Do we suggest they invite the new kid to a movie? Do we teach them to tolerate diversity? Do we suggest they foster their own individuality? Do we teach them to be heroic? Popularity is ephemeral. Kindness endures.
We collectively hope that Alye will find peace in her school and that she will grow into a woman who is confident and happy. We recall the discomfort of our own `tween years when we were awkward and pimpled and uncertain about almost everything. And we're so glad to be grown-up.
As a town, let's hear her words and let's each ask ourselves what we can do to make this better. Her crayon posters are a reminder that we are all responsible not only to not cause harm but to make a difference.