A punch in the arm so hard that it brought stars to my eyes. A chest-slam from behind in the hallway. Taunted with names like “big ears”. Pointed at in gym class because I ran funny. Laughed at in class because I mumbled – even taunted about it by the English teacher herself.
To anyone that responds to school shootings – like the one at Sparks Middle School – and says that it “couldn’t have been that bad”, I have two words for you. It can.
This article in no way justifies the actions of the Sparks Middle School shooter, or any other school shooter for that matter. However, the fact that these shootings continue should signal that not enough is being done by school administrators, teachers, or parents to truly understand the root of the problem.
My own experiences described above were over 15 years ago. One can only imagine, with the advent of the Internet and instant communication, just how horrible and pervasive bullying must be today.
To Be Bullied
The daily act of bullying is a slow and painful process of dehumanizing another person. It strips away their dignity, their pride and their self-worth, to the point that they feel stupid, worthless and disgusting. The most amazing kids with the biggest and kindest hearts – kids that are beautiful both inside and out – can be transformed into an entirely different being through the daily trauma of degradation.
The tragedy of bullying is that it’s a self-sustaining process. Bullies feel empowered by making others feel terrible, and the lack of self-confidence only emboldens other bullies to join in. And bullies are not only boys – they can take the form of girls and even teachers who seem to feel that by joining in subtly with snide comments about the bullied student that they can be a “popular” teacher with the “popular” students.
Just as bad are the teachers and administrators that try to stay neutral. However, as famous South African anti-apartheid activist Desmond Tutu once wrote, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
People I Wanted to Kill
Shame and self-criticism that results from bullying can easily transform into a fierce hate. It stems from the unfairness of the situation. Nice people shouldn’t be made to feel horrible about themselves. Nice people shouldn’t be made to feel unhappy. Unfortunately, within the sub-culture of a school system, the exact opposite is true. Inside that little world, it’s the cruel and evil who are most often the happiest. They are the most popular.
My own hatred – contained quietly behind a silent smile and calm blue eyes that did not betray my inner turmoil – did transform into thoughts of some act that could even the score. Some way to make them feel just as disgusting and destroyed as I felt every time they laughed, or pointed, or taunted.
The boy who always walked by me from behind in the hallway, slamming his chest and shoulder into me and sending me scrambling forward, trying to catch my balance as my books went flying all over the floor? I would have shot him right between the eyes – the eyes that reflected my own disgust.
The girl in physics class who slid her hand slowly up my thigh, as her girlfriends across the table giggled and taunted me? The girl who shoved it into my face that I could never, ever land a beautiful girlfriend, even if I tried? I would have shot her right in the heart, since that is exactly where she hurt me.
These were my fantasies – my dreams of release and retribution. My thoughts were bloody and fierce, behind a facade of nervous laughs and shy smiles. I was the “nice kid” that no one would have expected could be capable of such a terrible act.
The Way to Stop School Shootings
It is possible to stop school shootings. First – it’s to identify the bullied. Speak with them in private, without other students knowing about it. Show them that there’s a world outside of school where they will not be treated like this. Show them how this outside world will actually elevate them to a place that those bullies could never hope to achieve. Show them that the world outside of school is filled with happiness, love, and hope.
Teachers. Oh… you who represent the hope of all students that there is fairness and justice in the world. Don’t do your post the injustice of accepting – or even worse – joining in with the comments of ideas put forth by bullies. It doesn’t matter if every student in the class agrees with the bully – if the idea put forth belittles, denigrates or dehumanizes a single student in any way whatsoever – it is your DUTY as a decent human being, to put down that behavior for what it is. Because if you don’t – if YOU condone hurtful and hateful comments of other students, you are a part of the problem.
I was lucky – I had very loving parents who countered the hate from school with love at home. I had a few friends who truly cared about me. I escaped that place to grow into a man who flourished in the outside world – a guy who thanks God every day for a stunningly beautiful wife, two amazing children, and a successful career that I love.
Some aren’t so lucky to have any support in school. All the more reason – if you are in a school where you see someone who never seems to have any friends – to make a new friend. That person you think is a “freak” may very well be the most amazing, inspiring and wonderful friend you could ever hope to have.
The way to stop school shootings is for teachers to open their eyes, for administrators to punish bullying with extreme prejudice, and for the kind students to reach out to and show love to those quiet students who seem to be suffering under the weight of bullying or loneliness. Just reach out. Just take their side. You may not be the coolest person inside of school – but outside here, in the real world? You’ll be a hero.