By Ally Levise
At the restaurant where I work, I regularly wait on a father and son. We’ve chatted here and there, exchanging pleasantries.
I know exactly what they’ll ask for to eat and drink, because they get the same things every time. They know where I go to school, what my major is and some other small facts about my life, and I know some small facts about theirs.
Last weekend, they were planning on sitting at one of my tables to watch the Super Bowl. The son got there first. It was slow in the afternoon, so I pulled up a chair and started talking with him. It took about five minutes of conversation before he confided in me that he was being bullied in school.
He’s 17 years old and a junior in high school. He said that he doesn’t like going to school and he can’t wait to graduate. He told me that his classmates pick on him constantly for being overweight and it makes school unbearable for him.
At first I was surprised that he was telling me something so personal, but I realized that he probably just needed someone to talk to. There was genuine pain in his face as he told me the mean names he’s been called by other kids.
It made me feel terrible for him, that he was being made miserable during a time of his life that should be fun and relatively carefree. I also felt really angry that this type of thing could happen at all – and then to such a nice kid.
What makes people so mean? I’ve heard a lot of explanations for bullying.
Maybe the bully wasn’t hugged enough as a child. Maybe the bully is grappling with his or her own fragile ego. Heck, the state of Michigan decided last year that religious or moral beliefs are perfectly justifiable grounds for bullying (and I’m sure anyone who’s been reading my columns would know exactly how I feel aboutthat).
Looking at the hurt in this kid’s eyes, I realized that all of these justifications are crap. Bullying is emotional violence and should not be tolerated by our school systems under any circumstance.
I started to tell him that it would get better after he graduates and people grow up. But about halfway through that little cliché, I realized that what I was saying was probably crap, too. Some people never stop being mean and nasty to others.
Some of us have encountered bullies in the adult world, as well, which leads me to add the stipulation that bullying should also not be tolerated in universities or in the workplace.
I urge people to consider the power of their words and actions toward others. Name-calling and hate-speech can have serious negative effects on peoples’ lives.
The other side of the coin, of course, is the power of kindness. When you offer someone a smile, a hug or a positive word, you can change that person’s world for the better, if only a tiny bit.
I ask that we all make a little more effort to build each other up.
Levise is VN associate editor