By Lisa Keating
Early this week, I challenged another writer, Tony Posnanski, on his notion that bullies are weak-minded and unable to change. “Bullies are weak-minded people. Kid bullies have weak-minded parents who were bullies once as well. They prey on those who have a weakness — or a visible one.”
I reread Tony’s article six times to make sure I was reading it correctly. If this is true, then I would be a weak-minded parent and my son, Morgan, would be a weak-minded nine year old bully. Our fates predetermined with no possibility for change, awareness or emotional growth. Through that perspective, I would still be bullying my little brother or anyone else I deemed inferior or weak.
Growing up, I degraded, dominated, humiliated, and shamed my baby brother non-stop. We fought constantly. Our mom had no idea how to make it stop or fix it, she wasn’t taught skills to help us. Based on Tony’s theory, does that mean my mom was weak-minded because her daughter was a mean big sister? Or was she a single mom, working full-time, with an ex-husband that abandoned his kids and responsibilities, barely keeping it together one day at a time? My point being, accusing an entire group of kids and adults to the fate of being weak-minded blocks any possible progress in conversation and action.
I commend Tony for defending Grayson Bruce, and by proxy Morgan, and removing gender barriers for kids. Girls are allowed to cross gender lines without comment or questioning, thanks to the feminist movement. I myself played in the dirt, collected bugs, wore over-alls, played baseball, and climbed trees as a child. The feminist movement gave me permission to be both feminine and masculine. And to Tony’s greater point, it’s time boys are given the same permission.
What I cannot accept is that people can’t or won’t change. In the past ten years, this country has been flipped upside down in the fight for marriage equality. Awareness and acceptance continues to sky rocket. By the time Morgan is an adult this will be old news in the same way interracial marriage was for my generation and segregation was for the generation before me. Culture and climate changed at grassroots levels. Brave and courageous people stood up, spoke out and demanded something better. We are in the middle of a movement for equality not just for adults but for kids, too.
Morgan has confronted numerous kids, with the help of teachers, who were harassing him because of what he wore to school, hair, shoes, accessories, activities and interests. Through the power of a conversation, what seemed different, weird or wrong became understandable and even relatable to other students. The kids I work with have made profound changes in how they treat one another, have better skills to recognize and read body language and have taken responsibility for the climate and culture of their school. So don’t tell me a bully can’t change.
Morgan was appalled by this concept and said, “That’s wrong. By saying “kid bullies are weak-minded” the author is being a bully. What if the bully is struggling? Maybe they’re having a hard time at home.” Might I add this is coming from a nine year old?
The greatest lesson on forgiveness and empathy I learned was from Azim Khamisa, whose entire life changed due to a random act of gun violence. On January 21, 1995, Azim’s son Tariq, a 20-year old college student, was killed at point-blank range by a young 14-year old named Tony Hicks. Tony, hanging with other gang members, who had lured “the pizza man” to a false address intending to rob him of two pizzas. Tariq refused to hand over the pizzas, and was shot and killed before he could drive away from his attackers. Instead of subscribing to the idea of Tony being weak-minded, Azim recognized that he was a victim like his son, Tariq. As a result, Mr. Khamisa, along with Tony’s grandfather, Plex Felix, began The Tariq Khamisa Foundation. On their path to healing, they found forgiveness together.
I had the fortune of seeing Azim Bardo speak at a seminar two years ago. Listening to Mr. Khamisa recount the death of Tariq brought me to tears. He said, “Given the blessings of forgiveness, I reached the conclusion that there were victims at both ends of the gun.”
Could I ever forgive someone for killing Morgan? How would I ever recover from such a loss? Would I have the courage? As a mother, working with the kids who have harassed, bullied and intimidated Morgan has been a challenge and tests my commitment to creating future allies and leaders. Let alone to do it with the same depths as Mr. Khamisa.
Because of Azim Khamisa, I look at bullying differently. There is pain at both ends of the spectrum. What kind of society are we going to be; one that condemns the aggressor with narrow absolutes and no path out, like Tony Posnanski suggests? Or do we tap into empathy and compassion? Clearly, what we are doing isn’t working. It’s time to take a new path; a path where kids like Tariq Khasima, Tony Hicks, Grayson Bruce, and Morgan Keating thrive.
To find out more about Lisa Keating, check out her website, My Purple Umbrella.
Photo Credit: Thomas Ricker
By: Tanya Dodd-Hise
“A good example holds twice the value of good advice” ~ Unknown
As the days have gone by since receiving the phone call from the assistant principal regarding Noah and his bullying incident, I have had a lot of time to think about all of the outside (and inside) influences that are in his life that may have contributed to his actions. I look at those of us in his life, as well as things like television and video games. I am constantly telling him that he needs to keep himself in check because he is now an example to his baby sister. But what kind of example am I being to my children?
In all of our talks that we had during the initial phase of him getting into trouble at school, I told Noah repeatedly that he was no better than anyone else. I asked him where he ever got the idea that he had any place to stand and ridicule anybody else for his perception of their failures. “How dare you!” I said sternly. But when I stop and think about it, I would be lying if I said that I never acted better than, or superior to, someone else; we all would. I can remember, as a middle schooler, being in choir, knowing that I had a relatively good singing voice. I had done my first solo as a fourth grader, so sure I knew I could sing – and I knew that I could sing better than some of my classmates in choir class. Did I ever make fun of any of them, acting like I was better? I hope not, but I honestly don’t remember. In high school, I joined journalism and became an editor on the school newspaper, and yeah, I knew that I could write. I knew that I wanted to write as an adult, for my profession, because I was “just that good.” Did I ever make fun of any of my classmates for their spelling and grammar mistakes? Probably. I will openly admit that one. I have a hard time even now keeping my mouth shut on those. However, just because I may write better than someone else doesn’t mean that I believe myself to be better as a person than they are. But now, years later and all grown up, what kind of example am I to my very easily influenced twelve-year-old, and for that matter, my soon-to-be seven-month-old baby girl?
I know that there have been times that I have been out and about and have seen someone who was dressed in what I decide is “odd,” with body parts hanging out that, in my opinion, should NOT be. So I am sure that I have made remarks, and yes, in front of my child. We ALL have done this – and nobody better comment and tell me that they haven’t – or else www.peopleofwalmart.com wouldn’t exist. We all have pointed and laughed at others, as adults, for one reason or another. But just because we have all done it doesn’t make it any more okay. I have been more and more aware of these kinds of actions in the past few weeks, keenly aware that I can no longer stand in ridicule of anyone else if I expect my children to hold to those same standards. Yesterday, this thought came blaring back to me as we were leaving, of all places, Wal Mart. A woman that I have seen there before was entering as we were about to leave. She is in a motorized chair because of a disfigurement – she has a regular sized, large torso, but with very small and disfigured arms and legs. I saw her out of the corner of my eye as I was checking out, and soon Noah was staring and saying, “Mom! Pssst. Look. Over there.” I kept checking out, refusing to turn in her direction. This then prompted a long lecture as we were leaving about staring or making comments or making fun of anybody, much less someone with a handicap or disfigurement. I was mortified once again. I know that young children stare and say things about people because they don’t yet understand that they shouldn’t – but HE is old enough to know. But kids learn that it is okay to do it by their parent’s example, don’t they? It really got me thinking, and it really got me thinking that while I don’t do that on a regular basis, I AM guilty of it, which probably makes me a hypocrite in Noah’s eyes. So just like he, together we will have to start thinking before speaking and/or reacting. I want my children to treat everyone as their equal, not ever as inferior or less than. I have been treated that way and don’t like it; so I know that others don’t either. Now, if everyone else could just take a self-examining look within, just think of how different the world would be and how differently we would – and could – all treat each other?
Change begins with a whisper ~ The Help
By: Tanya Dodd-Hise
This is hard to talk about. It is embarrassing, humiliating, and somehow a reflection of how my parenting has somehow taken a wrong turn. I am one who has no tolerance for bullying – EVER. When my oldest son was bullied in high school by some redneck kid (because his mom is a lesbian), I took action, went to the school, talked to an administrator, and it was straightened out and over. When my youngest son was bullied this year in middle school by a snarky girl (because his mom is a lesbian), I took action, called the teacher, who spoke to the counselor and together they dealt with it. So imagine my absolute horror this morning when I receive a call from the assistant principal of the middle school: my son was in her office…for bullying.
She proceeded to tell me that he and another student had gotten into trouble during band class for talking too much, and when they didn’t stop, they got sent to the office. The other student had told my son to “shut up,” but when pressed for the reason, the truth came out that it was because my son had been picking on him for weeks during band. Teasing him and making fun of him when he got notes to the music wrong, or for making a mistake while they were all playing. I hung my head as I heard her tell me that while my child had told the truth and admitted his role, that it was indeed a form of bullying, and she had just suspended another for ten days for the same thing. What do I say? What do I do? I was immediately at a loss, and wanted to crawl under a rock. I told her that I absolutely did not understand where it was coming from, considering he had gone through the same thing just a short time ago in the school year. She also knew about the previous incident, and therefore didn’t quite understand herself. So she said that she wanted to put him into in-school suspension for today, and for the two days following; I told her I was absolutely behind her one hundred percent. But now I have to figure out what to say and do when he gets home – there has to be consequences here as well. I am just at a loss.
I have thought about it all day, since I got the phone call. When I called Erikka, she was at a loss as well. We have both seen how he can be with other kids, and have had talks with him about the way that he treats others. We know he is very intelligent, but with that comes the problem that HE knows he is very intelligent. We have seen and heard him with other kids, talking down to them like they are dumb, or not as smart as he. So now he is apparently talking down to kids in band, speaking to them like they aren’t as good as he is as well. After years and years, for as long as I can remember, he has been taught tolerance and to treat others as he would want to be treated. We don’t believe that we are better than anyone else, so I’m not sure where he would obtain this arrogant attitude. It is very troubling to me, as his mom, just as it was troubling when he was being bullied by someone else. I absolutely cannot abide my kid being THAT kid – but how do I stop it? I will, of course, call his dad this evening, and I am sure that he will want to talk to him. It just seems that no matter what any of us say to him, or take away from him as punishment, nothing seems to get through. I think this is what is the most disturbing to me – consequences don’t seem to phase him. How do I get through to him, to make him see all of the potential that he possesses in that magnificent brain, if only he would use it for making himself into a productive and successful person on planet Earth?
What do you do when it’s YOUR kid who is the bully?
I tearfully told him of my disappointment, embarrassment, and disgust over his actions. I told him about the little boy who lived a few miles from us, who killed himself three years ago at the age of nine, because he was bullied. That boy would be twelve today, and in the sixth grade. I told him that I could not tolerate my child being part of this horrible problem of bullying in this nation.
“Noah, you absolutely cannot be part of the problem, and it is a very big and very real and very wrong problem. You MUST be part of the solution. That kid that you picked on may not have very many friends, and what if you were the factor that pushes him to suicide – you don’t want to live with that kind of guilt. Every one of those kids that have killed themselves over bullying experienced someone who was part of the problem – the bully. You don’t want to be that person. You can be part of the solution. You can be his friend. We can never have too many friends.”
“You will never reach higher ground if you are always pushing others down.”
~ Jeffrey Benjamin
By: John Jericiau
I’m going to write about something that I have kept secret for over 30 years. Mom and Dad, when you read this please don’t be sad or upset, because I got through it in one piece. Boys, when you read this some day (and you will), just know that in your generation there’s more awareness in this world about things, and your Papa & I try hard to never let harm come your way. And Alen, when you read this remember that the person you fell in love with (and continue to love) is the culmination of many past experiences, good and bad. I also have felt that sharing this information with you was more of a burden on your heart than an ease on mine.
But I can no longer remain silent. My silence is a show of disrespect for all the 13 year olds that have followed in my path and suffered the same pain and suffering as I have. Being quiet does nothing to help the thousands and thousands of kids that have to live their lives the way I had to.
I’m talking of course about bullying. After having seen the unrated movie Bully tonight as part of our date night (not exactly a romantic comedy), I realize that one of the things that I can do – I mean that I must do – is share my little story. If more people speak out about bullying, maybe more people will care about it.
My family and I lived in New York City until 4th grade, and I really don’t remember much about school there other than I liked it. I was interested in learning new things, and I was always excited to meet other kids and make friends. After my younger brother was hit by a truck (but survived) as he and I crossed what we thought was an empty street, my parents hightailed it out of there and moved us to the suburbs about an hour north of the city. Excellent public schools and beautiful countryside greeted us with open arms.
I dove right in to 4th grade, team sports, and any other extracurricular activities I could. As I progressed through elementary into junior high school I grew into a healthy, albeit skinny, teenager with no real issues (except for zits and braces) except for one thing – the school bus. Don’t get me wrong; there were plenty of nice friendly students on my bus route. It was a bus route that picked up all the kids that lived on the outskirts of my school district – we were literally a stone’s throw away from the next school district – so the other kids were not neighbors or close friends, but nearly all were still pleasant enough. Nearly all, except for the Smothers brothers.
Of course, Smothers is not their real last name, but because some of my high school friends might be reading this I’m going to omit their real name. The point of writing this particular blog is not to out them but rather out myself and bring myself down a path of healing and action for those that follow me.
I’d always kept an eye on these two as I rode the bus, because they were trouble and everyone knew it. I stayed clear of them, and counted my blessings that, thanks to some angelic route planners, the bus would pick me up near the beginning of the route and the Smothers brothers near the end of it. I sat near the front and friends filled in the other seats around me long before they had a chance to get on and make their way to the very back of the bus. Occasionally we would hear yells or screams of pain from innocent bysitters, but for the most part I had nothing to do with them.
All that changed when a newly hired route planner reconfigured the bus route just before I started 8th grade. We got the notice in the mail but I didn’t pay much attention to it. Terror hit me, however, when sitting on the busride home that first day and I realized that I was now the second to last stop of the bus route, and the Smothers brothers were the last! Our bus driver was completely oblivious to the happenings on the bus each afternoon, so for all intents and purposes I would be alone with this duo for almost ten minutes every day. I tried not to panic, but my worst fears were almost immediately imagined.
It started with throwing things at the back of my head and progressed from there. Kicking the back of my seat. Smacking the back of my head. Flicking my ears. Spilling things on my shoulder.
Thinking back, I have absolutely no idea why I told no one. I don’t know why I didn’t fight back. I know that I was (and still am) extremely embarrassed that it was happening, so it became my little secret. But I really wish I nipped it in the bud, because it escalated. Grabbing my books and throwing them out the window. Trying to grab my shoes and do the same. Punching me. Shoving me. Beating me.
This went on for months, but then finally I’d had enough. I ran. Literally. I started to run the 4 miles to school every morning and take a shower there before the morning bell. I upped my extracurricular activities at school so that I never had to take that bus again. But they still weren’t completely unavoidable. Once the brothers happened to bump into me at my locker at the end of the regular school day, so they stuffed me in it and locked it. Once they happened to see me go in the boys’ locker room right after school, so they snuck in, threw me across the locker room, and broke my ankle.
Didn’t these losers know who I was? Didn’t they know I would one day be Student Body President and Prom King? Didn’t they know I was popular, friendly, and an all-around good guy?
I don’t want my sons to experience this. It seems an inevitability when it comes to teenage boys, but maybe that’s actually a mindset that we can change – one story at a time.