Sometimes I share pictures of little kids with my book and caption it, “This is why I do what I do!”
I love those posts. They make me really happy.
This is not one of those posts.
But, it IS a post about another reason why I do what I do.
Oftentimes when people learn that I’m a speaker, they say something like, “Oh, you must be a great anti-bullying speaker!” They assume I was bullied when I was a kid because I was born without my left hand. I get it. The truth is, though, I don’t remember ever being bullied.
What’s funny is that I don’t even remember what the kid said. I ran track my freshman year of high school and while out on a warm-up run, this one kid said something disparaging about my arm. Before I knew what happened, a senior threw the kid up against the back of a car and told him to knock it off. That’s literally as much of the only story I can remember when people ask if I was bullied as a kid.
Tonight…that kid, who is now 42 or 43 years old…tried to bully me again.
I’m not telling you this to get your sympathy or to cause outrage. I’m really not. I’m sharing it because it was a stark reminder for me, a person who has never really experienced bullying in his life, that bullying is real and it needs to be talked about.
This person was known for being a jerk in middle school and high school. That’s all I really remember about him. So, tonight as he trolled me and a friend of mine on Facebook, I told him the story about what he did and how it’s disappointing, yet not surprising, to see that he hasn’t changed.
“Call me a d*ck in person and see what happens. (I said that he was “a d*ck about my arm” when we were younger) I’ll be back this summer. Give it a try. Didn’t think so. Stop obsessing over a story from high school you loser,” he responded. He then insulted me and my wife again and apparently blocked me.
Clearly this was not a “My bully and I are best friends now!” situation.
I honestly can’t think of a more cliche response from a bully. Accusing me of “obsessing” over the story, challenging me to a fight, twisting my words, name-calling, body-shaming, etc etc. It made me mad, sure, but even more than that, it made me sad.
It made me sad because I know there are kids who deal with WAY worse than I ever have. I’m a grown man. I’m able to process this and learn from it and let it roll off my back. But, I’ve learned this over time.
Here’s a hard truth: bullies will always exist. They just will. I truly believe we’ll never “eliminate” bullies or bullying.
That said, I think there are a couple things we can do.
First, I know the right thing to say is that bullies are just people who are hurting. Hurt people, hurt people. And I know that’s true. I also believe, though, that some people are just plain mean to their core. They’re selfish and rude and mean and don’t care that anyone knows it. You probably know adults like this. And while that’s kind of scary, it actually helps me. It helps me prepare. Haters gon’ hate, etc. So yes, let’s not ignore bullies as a rule, but understand that some will never change no matter what we do or say. And with that knowledge, let’s teach our kids how to deal with them if they encounter them. Give them strategies for what to do in those situations and how to handle it mentally and emotionally going forward.
On the other hand – so to speak – when I go into schools, I spend the bulk of my energy teaching the kids to accept themselves and others just the way they are. I help them see that the things that make them unique also make them awesome. It’s why I challenge them to tell ONE friend something they think is awesome about them before they leave school the day of my visit. I’ve heard my message described as a subversive anti-bullying message and I’m ok with that.
Tonight was difficult, but I can’t tell you how glad I am to have a platform on which to share my experience in hopes to help you in yours. Let’s be aware, alert and available to help however and whenever we can.
We have to.