I usually like to post about happy things and love. However, I had a hard time finding much of either in an article I read recently. It's been gnawing at me, so of course I decided to write about it. That's what writers do. Even the ones who insist on writing sappy endings.
When a nine year old boy in North Carolina complained of being bullied at school his mother went to the school guidance counselor. That's what we're supposed to do, right? And the school did what they're supposed to do by listening and then responding with a solution.
How did the school respond? By telling the child he had triggered the bullying by carrying a backpack with a pony on it. The solution, according to the story I read, was simple. The principal told boy's mother to keep his beloved backpack at home. No more backpack, no more bullying.
Seriously! Here's an article you can read for yourself: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2014/03/18/my-little-pony-backpack-banned-school-north-carolina/6565425/ I'm sure there is more to the story than we can learn here--there always is--but let's all agree there is ample credible information for us to get the gist.
The school believes that bullies will stop bullying when they have nothing left to pick on. When everyone is just the same and no one stands out from the crowd, then the bullying will end. Doesn't that sound logical? All we've got to do is be just like everyone else and society will embrace us with love and compassion.
What a shame, then, that NONE of us is just like everyone else! There is no "everyone else". There is just "everyone" and we are all a part of that: ALL of us, with all our many flaws, talents quirks, and very obvious differences. We can no sooner leave those at home than we can our arms and legs.
And what if the things that make us different ARE our arms and legs? What if instead of a backpack, this little boy was being bullied for his prosthetic leg, or a paralyzed hand? Could the principal so glibly tell him to just leave those at home? Of course not. I'm sure there are many days when my own son's principal would love to ask him to just "leave his autism at home" so he can be like everyone else, but since he can't do that we've all had to learn to live with him just as he is.
This is what really bothers me about this story. "Leave the backpack at home" isn't simply about a little boy inviting youthful teasing by waving a fuzzy pony in the face of other kids, it's about some deep-rooted human urge to avoid facing the "different" in our midst, to avoid learning to live with uncomfortable things.
We aren't living in generations past when the physically handicapped, the mentally challenged, the blind, the deaf, the ones born a little bit "different" DID get left home. Or worse, they didn't stay home but where sent away to some institution so they couldn't bother "everyone else" with their differences. The bullies didn't bully them, but only because they didn't see them. Those bullies never had the benefit of learning not to bully. They just simply had to find other targets.
This is what I fear will happen in North Carolina. That little boy did end up staying home. He's being homeschooled now for his own safety. He learned that society is no place for him, that he can't trust his counselor or his principal to keep him safe, and he certainly can't trust his peers. The only way he can be himself is to just stay home.
And what did the bullies learn? Exactly what they believed from the start: if something outside their comfortable norm makes them feel awkward and unsure, they can raise their perceived confidence and social status by declaring that someone else is beneath them. Then they'll be all right. Then they'll be "normal." They won't have to stay home.
But now they do have to keep bullying. With no better skills to navigate life, these kids become victims of their own misguided efforts to "fit in". Because they haven't learned to love other people's differences, they haven't learned to love their own. They have to carefully manage their environment so that everything around them perfectly suits their tastes and abilities--failure at this would mean they might not fit in; they might seem "different". And we all know what happens to those who are different!
Bullying hurts everyone. That's because EVERYONE is different. We all have things a bully might pick on, and we all have the capacity for bullying. Both are just part of our human condition. Unfortunately, we can't leave that condition at home. We have to sling it over our back every day and carry it everywhere we go. Each one of us has our own very unique backpack, not like anyone else's. We can fill it with love or intolerance, ignorance or pride, wisdom or fear.
Our backpack's appearance is the last thing any of us should care about. What really makes us different is everything we pack inside. So let's all love what gets us bullied, and just hope that someday those bullies can learn to love themselves.