It seems like bullying is everywhere lately. Maybe I’m just looking for it more.
One child suicide due to bullying is one too many for me. Unfortunately there seems to be one per month. Phoebe Prince is the latest high profile suicide, but she’s just one of many. Her story still saddens me every time I hear it. What saddens me more (or disgusts me) is people placing even a fraction of the blame on her for not being tough enough. When every day at school is hellish, who can blame her for finally giving in?
To give you an idea of how terrible the bullying of Phoebe Prince was, we can look to what happened after she killed herself. The Facebook group set up to mourn her was visited by the bullies and mocked. At the school dance two days later (why wasn’t it called off?) a number of students were mocking Phoebe’s hanging. So do you think these bullies were just having some innocent fun? A little teasing?
Rather than ascribing weakness to those who give in, let’s call that normal. Abnormal, and inconceivably strong, is Constance McMillen. When she told her high school in Fulton, Mississippi she’d be taking her girlfriend and wearing a tux, the school said no. When she got some media exposure, they canceled the prom. More media exposure and the prom was back on. However, the town organized a secret prom, so when Constance turned up with her date there were only five other kids there. Everyone else was at the secret prom. When the entire town you live in considers you a freak and conspires to lie to you, how do you deal with that? That’s strength of an unusual level.
Bullies need to be stopped. Are we going to do that by counseling them? I’d be surprised. Are we going to assume the adults will fix it? Phoebe Prince’s school was negligent at best. Constance McMillen’s school administration started the problem. So, what then?
The only road to success is right through the bystanders. They need to be activated. And when I say they, I mean you. I mean me. We need people like Darby O’Brien who saw the cover-up happening in South Hadley over Phoebe Prince’s death. He made a call to a newspaper and the story blew open. He received angry calls about his action! While most of the town wanted to ignore what had happened, Darby O’Brien did something.
We need a movement.
Mt. Morris Junior High hosted a Pink Shirt Day event. Kit and I were there with 50 pink shirts and the school provided another 50. There must have been another 100 kids who wore their own. Some of those kids felt empowered. If we can get 20 kids in that school to decide that enough is enough, they could wipe out bullying. Not just for a while, but forever.
Yesterday, I let an opportunity slide because I was worried about being inappropriate. While waiting to hand out the pink shirts I heard a boy behind me call another boy gay as a slur. And I didn’t do anything. I wondered if it would be wrong to call him out in front of others. I worried that it wasn’t my place at the school. I kicked myself for the rest of the day and through the night. What an idiot! I was part of the problem. If I can’t cut through the social barriers to calling out a bully, how can I expect anyone else to do it?
You can be part of the problem or part of the solution – there aren’t any chairs on the sideline here. Martin Luther King, Jr. said “The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict.” Presumably right next to those bullies from South Hadlee and the entire town of Fulton, Mississippi.