“Just call her the ‘IT.'”
Those words were uttered by my “friend” back in elementary school. Somehow, she convinced the entire fifth grade to call me “IT” for a whole day. In P.E., everyone just stared, pointed and laughed. At lunch, nobody sat by me. Every time I asked a classmate a question, they replied, “What do you want IT?” and then laughed hysterically. Just as the day was wrapping up, she walked over to my desk, put her hand on my shoulder and said, “Hey, don’t be such a stick in the mud. It was just a joke.”
Some things you just don’t ever forget.
With the age of cell phones and the instant gratification of social media, bullying has been taken to a whole new level. But, let’s be clear. It never, ever, left. While I applaud the recent creation of programs like “No Place for Hate,” ultimately we have to teach our kids to stand up for themselves. We have to teach them that they might lose a friend, or two or 20 if they defend themselves, but in the long run you don’t want people like that in your life anyway.
A few years ago, my oldest found himself with a bona fide bully. In all honesty, I think this sweet kid just wanted some friends and some attention. Thankfully, with the intervention of some caring teachers, administrators and parents, we were able to find some real solutions and the bully grew up and became a nice kid. In the process, my son learned how it felt to be on the receiving end of a bully. I pray it’s helped him to never be on the giving end.
Why do I share all that with you? Because I think all of us has a bully inside. There are moments when we want our way, when we think a girlfriend needs to be put in her place or we see our solution as the shining example. And we bully our way through the door to get people to listen. I know I’ve done it and I’m not proud.
I’m certain that my kids will encounter more bullies and that I’ll be tempted to steamroll my way through the door, but I’m hoping for one thing. I’m praying that I remember just how much it stung to be shunned by all my friends in fifth grade. How I came home that night and sobbed in my pillow so my parents wouldn’t know. How my innocence was stripped away in a matter of hours by a mean girl. How much it hurts when people call you names and then swing by your desk and call a truce, as if nothing ever happened. How important it is to forgive and then make better choices when choosing your community.
You don’t get to do life over, but you do get to do it better everyday. Here’s to a better day and hopefully a laugh as you enjoy this picture of me in fifth grade, circa 1985.