This morning I’m leaping up onto my soap box. I’ve written about it before and I’ll probably write about it again.
As adults, we epitomize bullying sometimes and I think that we often believe we are above it or maybe we don’t even realize our capacity for this awful behavior. The thing is, the actions we perform, the words we say, the laughter we encourage … all of these things are seen by young eyes and heard by young ears and we give permission to children to be bullies. They don’t have the capacity to understand the fine line between humor and reality sometimes because we don’t delineate it well enough.
When we point out a person’s ludicrous outfit or crazy hair or ridicule someone we don’t know because of their actions or behavior, their clothing choices or anything that makes them different than us, we tell others around us that it is okay to believe we are better than they are and that laughing at their choices is appropriate.
Even the “People of Wal-Mart” photographs. Who in the world are we to laugh? What gives us the right to mock someone for any reason? We don’t know any of the reasons behind their behavior … the only thing we ‘know’ is that they look different and we obviously look better than they do.
I was talking to my sister (a fifth grade teacher) about this the other day since she is dealing with some of these issues in her classroom. Children have chosen to laugh at a young boy because he is from a different culture and his clothing is different, he smells different because of the spices his family uses. Some of these kids are ‘good’ kids. Their parents are polite and involved … nice people.
We always put our images of culture above others and make judgments about them based on those images. Does someone who can wear Italian suits or designer clothes have the right to laugh at us because we buy our clothing from Target or JCPenney? Of course not. That’s ridiculous. But, it’s what we do and it’s what our kids see every day from us.
Some take great pride in being Grammar Nazis, because we happen to have a better command of the English language. Who in the world do we think we are? We know nothing of those who misuse their, they’re and there. We don’t know about their learning disabilities or the fact that they had no one in their life to read to them when they were young, or that they were yanked from school to school as their parents moved from one job to the next. All we do is stand in harsh judgment. We have declared ourselves to be better than them.
We teach our children that Christians are better than anyone else, rather than humility in the face of a great God. On the other hand, scientists and atheists ridicule Christians because they aren’t smart enough to see through the fallacy of religion. For heaven’s sake, this week I saw a comment on an article asserting that if a person wasn’t a Republican and a conservative, they couldn’t actually be a Christian. Bullying at its finest and it is safe because it is in an online forum, where there is no serious fallout.
Bullying takes many forms and as adults we live these out in ways that our children absorb. From the color of a person’s skin, to the beliefs they have, the way they speak or write and the clothing that they wear, we make distinctions and then decide that one way is the better way, allowing ourselves to climb a social ladder that shouldn’t exist. We exemplify and teach bullying and then are shocked when children’s bad behavior is made public.
My sister has chosen to give her classroom an assignment for the next month and a half. She has challenged her kids to perform acts of kindness for each other, to treat each other well, to say nice things to each other and be helpful. They can’t tell her they’ve done something – she or one of the other teachers must ‘catch’ them at good behavior. The challenge is to fill a jar with 85 marbles.
There is a young boy in her classroom with some fairly major disabilities. One day last week he began to freak out because he was in a hurry and couldn’t tie his shoes. Carol nearly wept when one of her other boys said, “Don’t worry, Billy. I’ll tie your shoe for you.” He knelt down, tied the shoe and then waited for ‘Billy’ to join them as they went outside. That was the first marble she was putting in the jar. Spontaneous kindness after a week of kids laughing at and picking on a child from another culture.
Recognize your own capacity for vile behavior … we all have it. Watch what you do and say in person, on social networks and in public when your kids can see and hear you. Who do you laugh at? Who do you ridicule? Who are you kind to? Who do you encourage? Who do you separate yourself from and who do you engage?
Pay attention and maybe buy a jar for marbles … see how quickly you can fill it.