I think everyone knew people who were "different" in their junior high or high school. You know--the geeky kids, the physically awkward kids. The ones whose clothes were always really out of style. The super-smart-but-nerdy kids. The gay kids.
When I was growing up, those kids got teased, and they got bullied. I'm not talking about good-natured teasing from friends; I'm talking about people ganging up on them, calling them losers, pushing them into lockers in the hall, beating them up. I'm saying "they," but verbal bullying occasionally happened to me (I was a nerdy, shy type who eventually learned how to be as invisible as possible in my desire to avoid bullies).
It probably happened to lots of us.
Once I became a mom, I started to say to my kids, "You guys are lucky. At your school, everyone learns not to bully, and not to be bullied. There were lots of bullies when I was in junior high. But your generation is more emotionally intelligent and tolerant."
I'm not so sure now.
So many news stories can attest that bullying is still going on and still hurts people: recently, we've heard of a rash of suicides among gay or gay-identified teens who have been bullied.
Where is this coming from if our students are coached and taught about emotional intelligence and tolerance from grade school on up? It could be the proliferation of social media which makes anonymous rude comments easier and privacy harder. It could be a decline of general civility. It probably has something to do with anti-gay sentiments among adults that trickles down to our children.
I think lots of people get tired of thinking about and talking to the bullies, though. In a video that's gone viral, Joel Burns, a city council member in Ft. Worth, Texas, decided to think about and talk to the kids who get bullied.
His message: It gets better as you get older. "You'll get out of high school and you'll never have to deal with those jerks again," he says. "You will make friends and they will understand you and accept you."
He speaks especially to young kids who are gay, but his message can bring hope to any "different" kid who is suffering now.
Let's make sure that Joel Burns is right when he assures these kids that mature adults don't act like junior high bullies. Let's prove that we don't use cruel words and physical violence to threaten those we we just think are "ikky" or "different." Let's use our words and our presence to show tolerance and understanding and leave a place for hope in our world--for those kids and for every kid.