Throwing Stones

Raise your hand if you can relate to any of the following.  A high school student saving for a car, or saving for college.  A college student.  A single parent trying to make ends meet.  A parent trying to pay for a kid’s braces or college tuition.  A retiree trying to live on only a retirement check.  Go on, raise your hand if you’ve ever had a reason to work a job that paid the minimum wage. Can you relate?  Good, because that ability to relate is the foundation of this post.

Last summer when the blackberries were thick here in the Pacific Northwest, the seasonal milkshake and lemonade at Burgerville reflected those luscious beauties.  I was standing among the milieu of hungry folks and the man behind me orders a blackberry shake.

He’s a big bear of a man, all barrel-chested and weathered by time and sun and life.  Maybe he was a choker-setter back in his youth.  Maybe he was an attorney or doctor.  There’s no way of knowing.  All I know is this big grey-haired man in his faded Dockers shorts and a tee-shirt stretched tight over his belly has come to stand beside me.  There must have been about fifteen of us waiting there in the heat of summer, the smell of fresh French fries thick in the air.

The woman behind the beverage counter leans forward and calls out, “Large blackberry lemonade?” And none of us step forward.  Frowning, she looks down at the print-out and then shouts out a number just one off from my own.

“That’s supposed to be a shake.  A blackberry shake.”

His voice matches him, big and commanding.  She recoils a bit and says, “Sorry sir.  I’ll have that right up.”

And then he turns to me and addresses me and everyone else, including the girl, “What can you expect from minimum wage?”

To which I may have very quietly said to myself, “What can you expect from an asshole?”

What I should have said is “What can you expect from a bully?”  Because judging that girl’s value as a human due to someone else’s action is no different than the school-yard bully picking on kids because of size, ability, interests, et cetera.  It’s all judgement and a lack of tolerance for others.

At some point in his life, this man learned to equate the job a person does with the value of that person.  That only minimum wage workers make mistakes.  And that people who earn an hourly wage are somehow incapable of anything better. Someone taught him that judging others is okay and that throwing verbal stones as an adult is just as acceptable as throwing physical stones as a kid.

We must break this cycle of childhood bullying turning into intolerance for others.  And we can do it by teaching the young to empathize.  We can ask hard questions like, “how would you feel if that was done to you?”  We can teach our children to be better people than ourselves — to be more tolerant.  It is not a difficult thing, but it is a hard thing.

No place illustrates a child’s potential like a preschool.  There are leaders and followers, fearless and fearful, outgoing and shy.  And there are the bullies and the bullied.  And just like I see parents ignore kids jumping off tall play equipment, I also see parents ignore bullying behavior.  Sometimes the parent is distracted and sometimes the parent just shrugs and says, “kids will be kids!”

But we must teach kids that they should be better than that.  That every person they meet is just as wonderful of a gift as he/she is.  And we must teach this today and everyday.  In everything we do.  Teach every child through our words and deeds to be the best he/or she can be.  Even if that child is a big bear of a man standing in line at Burgerville.

I failed that day.  I didn’t speak up for that young woman spending her summer working at a minimum wage job, whom I’d once overheard say is working her way through the local college to be a pediatric nurse.  Perhaps it was the safe thing, to not engage a stranger in a confrontation.  But was it the right thing?  The thing that will ultimately make humanity better?

The news lately has been filled with ways that humanity is NOT better.  Young people are taking their lives more today than in recent years because they have been bullied and feel they just can’t go on.  This happens every day in this country and abroad.  Some folks brush off the deaths because the kids were gay, or black, or poor, or whatever.  Don’t.  Every person has been picked on about something: too tall, too short, too fat, too skinny, too smart, too dumb, too this color, too that color, too whatever. No one escapes bullying without some level of scarring — both the bully and the bullied.

Show a child that kids will be kids, but that doesn’t mean the kids will be judgmental and hurtful.  If each and every one of us were to do this, kids being kids will be the solution to so many problems instead of the reason so many kids die.

One of my favorite sites for curriculum to teach all ages of people to be tolerant is the Teaching Tolerance site from the Southern Poverty Center.

Another site with great ideas for parents is Ryan Patrick Halligan which includes ways of preventing or limiting your child’s cyberbullying exposure.

If you have sources you believe are helpful, please add them in the comments.  Together, we can help kids know that it will get better, that we will protect them, that bullying is wrong and the answer is not suicide.  The answer is adults teaching children to be better people.

If you are a young person and are being bullied, please tell a grown-up.  Parents, teachers, ministers, nurses, doctors, anyone you feel comfortable talking to about other things, talk to them about being bullied.  If they don’t help you, tell someone else.  Keep telling until you are safe.

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15 thoughts on “Throwing Stones

  1. Right on, as always, Kristina!! So sick of the basic lack of respect for other’s feelings that seems to be oh-so-acceptable these days. 😦

  2. You are so fantastic. How many others were there that day, besides you? How many didn’t speak up? You empathized with that girl, I wonder how many didn’t even notice…

  3. So true and beautifully written. I think we all recall a bullied moment of our past, that sticks with us like gum on the bottom of our shoe. We can scrape it off and pretend that it didn’t affect us, but years later there is that one comment that sticks us to the ground.

    I try to laugh off the “four-eyed” comment in first grade. I was the only one with glasses in my whole grade. Sure the other kid was a friend – and even better, he too became 4-eyed, 2 years later. I laugh it off and say “karma is a B****” but can you imagine the difference in my life if that comment wasn’t said at the tender age of 6 or 7? Your post really makes me wonder, how many times I got stuck on that few words sentence…

    It still stays with you and unfortunately, those who are bullied, get those repetitive comments time and time again. Parents can’t sit back and pretend nothing happened, because they are only teaching their kids to do the same thing – and the cycle continues.

  4. Great post. This has been on my mind a lot recently, too. We opted out of the public school system because my son is advanced educationally and not only would the teachers not advance him to the content that he needed but it set him apart from his peers in a way that was very difficult – and neither the school nor the parents would bother to step in and tell the other kids that being smart wasn’t something wrong or something to tease and bully about. My son can defend himself (and he had the suspensions to prove it – thanks, “no tolerance” for suspending the kid who got hit and not the one who hit him) but in the long run, the environment itself was making it impossible for him to learn – and he wasn’t even being “bullied” there. It’s time we all stood up and said “no more” – not just by withdrawing but also by acting to stop this kind of behavior when we see it.

    And for the record, we did act proactively for several years, but in the end retreat proved the only option because we couldn’t get the support within the system and I wasn’t willing to sacrifice his education on the altar of administrative refusal.

  5. I knew I followed your blog for a reason. It’s because of posts like this. Thank you very much…well said, and I couldn’t agree more (and I used to be a manager at Burgerville, and I know how hard my employees worked and how much pride they took in their jobs!)

  6. Kristina!!!!!!!!!! I am grinning big and wide right now. I knew kindness was contagious. And too bad I spelled contagious wrong the entire morning…on every tweet. Duh me.

  7. Great post, Kristina–proof that bullies come in all ages. I’m afraid there will always be assholes among us, so I guess the best thing we can do is learn to cope with them, and teach our children to do the same.

  8. Thank you for this, Kristina. We have to face down these situations as they present themselves. You provide a very familiar anecdote. We should treat our “service” people like we would those in our own family who would bring food and drink to the table. We forget our manners sometimes.

    Best,

    Paul W. Hankins
    #SpeakLoudly

  9. Disgusting behaviour by the bloke. The fact that he was the big bear of a man that you describe may have made a difference to how willing people were to speak up.
    Anyway, we don’t get it right every time.

  10. I was bullied throughout elementary and middle school and somehow it all stopped in high school. I don’t know if it was because I went to an incredibly diverse high school or if I was no longer at the bottom of the totem pole so to speak, but I found that as an adult I’m better able to handle bullies then when I was a kid. Of course, the ability to cry on demand in front of a teacher came in handy as a kid! I just wish I had the wit I have now to turn the tables back onto the bully when I was younger, as it probably would’ve prevented so much emotional scarring. However, with that being said, I’m so glad you wrote about this subject and that the message of bullying being a real problem is so prevalent in the media these days because the more we talk about it the faster we can curtail another child taking their own life because of someone else’s insecurities about themselves.

  11. I try very hard to remember to treat people as I want to be treated. Being Gay, being different and being openly so I get treated poorly A LOT. I get judged and sometimes I get or my kids get, or my spouse gets bullied or treated less because of it. Sometimes it’s for other reasons… I don’t tolerate it though. I am a loudmouthed you know what and stand up for myself and others. I don’t put up with being bullied or seeing others bullied.

    I was bullied all through school and then one day in high school a boy twice my size bullied me, called me a ‘cross eyed queer’ and I stood up to him and I blacked his eye. And he backed down and I haven’t backed down since.

    Thank you for this post! like Crys, my beautiful wife said above, you are fantastic!

  12. “That only minimum wage workers make mistakes.” Which is why, I suppose, the stock market occasionally loses hundreds of billions in bad investments…

    Sorry, my intolerance showing through there was as bad as the guy who berated the woman on the stall. The guys who routinely make themselves feel better by giving verbal (usually in public) really wind me up. If we’re going to have peace and mutual respect for all, there’s one small factor which may throw a spanner in the works – parody. An entire genre based on mocking, which has had some epic heights – Bored Of The Rings springs immediately to mind as a good example.

    I reserve the right to mock the rich and powerful. 🙂

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