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In the past decade, bullying has become a hot topic. Maybe our interest started with Columbine. Before that tragedy, kids being bullied were good for a humorous scene in a sit-com. Suddenly, meanness had consequences. Even as awareness has grown, it took a rash of suicides and high-profile cases to compel schools, parents and child advocates to take bullying seriously. A couple of days ago I was browsing news online and found this story:

http://tinyurl.com/3sbd89u

Now even after death, they can hire a lawyer and get to you. On the internet. Great.

I was bullied as a child, throughout my school career. It started early, but as I hit puberty early and my weight went up, I became a common target. I remember being called names. Always the last picked for teams. One particularly memorable day in the sixth grade someone took my street clothes from my locker during PE and stuffed them down a dirty toilet. I had to wear my gym shorts the rest of the day, and carry my filthy clothing home on the bus in a garbage bag. The only physical damage I recall suffering was landing on my head while doing a high jump when a classmate pulled the mat out from under me. I knocked myself unconscious and went into convulsions, then stopped breathing. After the PE teacher gave me mouth to mouth, I was told to “walk it off” and sent to check in with the nurse, who sent me back to class.

Fast-forward a couple of years, and I spent the summer after 9th grade working out and dieting myself down to a healthier weight. I was still never a waif-like teenager, I could squeeze into a size 10 on a good day, but for the most part I wasn’t a constant target. A couple of scrawled “fat cow” notes on my locker senior year, and I was in college and free.

That’s not to say that I was never culpable. I spent the tenth grade at a small school overseas–there were fewer than 20 of us in my class. That year a new boy came; he was strange, awkward. I’ll call him “Rock”–just gawky and at that strange growth stage where all his joints were twice the size of his skinny limbs. The boys in class were horrible to Rock. They called him names, excluded him, and I did nothing. I never stood up for him, never went out of my way to intervene. I just remember feeling relief that it wasn’t me. I was terrified that if I so much as said boo, they would turn and I’d be back on the bottom of the totem pole. I wasn’t that high anyhow. One day one of the popular guys brought rotten eggs to school, and somehow managed to get them all in Rock’s locker. I still remember seeing him, standing in the hall with tears streaming down his face, red with rage and shame. Only then did the most popular girl in our class turn to her boyfriend who had managed the egging and say “enough”. Rock was never accepted, but the viciousness stopped for the most part. No thanks to me.

Now as an adult, when I see someone being victimized, I step in. As a youth volunteer in church, and later a youth director, I tried to create a bullying free environment. I can’t say that my efforts always worked. Often other adults were oblivious. One little boy in particular was twelve, geeky and brilliant. The snarky comments, dirty looks… it was all so familiar to me. His parents were pastors, so he had to come to group. I brought it up in a planning meeting with the youth director and other volunteers. None of them had noticed a thing. One actually said something to the effect of, “I think they are pretty nice to him, he’s so weird, you know.”

There are people out there who have built so many walls around themselves that all they can do is lash out in an attempt to make themselves feel better, more, superior. Email harassment, snide comments made behind someone’s back, gossip and cruelty… this isn’t just about middle school, high school, college, not just about gay kids or weird kids or fat kids or smart kids… it’s about all of us. I would like to believe that no one I care about was ever a bully, but that’s unlikely. Many of us were bullied. Many of us saw it happen to others and did nothing. And every time I read another story about another beautiful child destroyed, I feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach.

I would like to make a plea for kindness. For choice of gentle words. As the mother of an overweight child with Aspergers, I fear every time I send him out the door that he’ll experience what I did. This weekend, deep in my fit of melancholy, I found myself for the first time looking up on Facebook the names of the kids who had picked on me as a child. They didn’t look any different from any other 40somethings. Not sure what that means. But I know for a fact that it was the verbal and online bullying I experienced at my last job that led to my breakdown. I’m still wounded. So Christians, please act like it. And the rest of you, please keep us true to what we preach.

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