October is National Bullying Prevention Month. Teachers will talk to their students about bullying, why it's bad and what to do about it, specials will aire on television, billboards will go up, PSAs with celebrities will abound. Hopefully, kids will get lots of opportunities to unpack, discuss and dissect this issue. Hopefully it will make a difference for some of them.
I don't have any kids, but I like to envision that my theoretical future offspring will be righteous champions of the underdog. They'll know, because I'll tell them, what oppression is and what it looks like, however subtle. They'll know that they're no better or worse than anyone else. They'll know that individuals are as unique as snowflakes. They'll know that there are people who treat other as Less Than. They'll know that there are people who want them to believe one narrow, mostly unattainable ideal of what is beautiful and socially acceptable in order to more efficiently sell them things they don't need.
They'll know because I'll tell them. I will tell them that shit. Every. Single. Day. I'll tell them until I'm blue in the face.
I think most parents would want their kid to be the one who stands up for the kid being bullied on the playground. They'd want their kid to defend people who are treated unfairly.
Because here's the thing about bullies. They grow up.
If we're all lucky, they grow out of being nasty little monsters and mature into kind, compassionate adults.
But some of them will just become adult bullies.
Some of them will be obvious, like people who terrorize women on transit, relentlessly stalk and belligerently harass people on the internet or make rape jokes and then doubledown to defend them. Some of them will be more subtle, like people who silence people who don't agree with them, throw handicapped kids off planes or deny care to fat patients. They're different, but they're all bullies.
You may have seen this video of new anchor Jennifer Livingston addressing a bully:
Internet high fives all around. Everything about this video is awesome except, obviously, the douchecanoe who wrote such a hurtful letter.
Here's the part that I think is really, really important:
"Now I am a grown women and luckily for me I have a very thick skin—literally, as that email pointed out—and otherwise. And that man's words mean nothing to me. But what really angers me is there are children who don't know better. Who get emails, as critical as the one I received or in many cases even worse, each and every day. The internet has become a weapon. Our schools have become a battleground. And this behavior is learned. It is passed down from people like the man who wrote me that email."
"If you are at home and you are talking about the fat newslady—guess what? Your children are probably going to go to school and call someone fat. We need to teach our children to be kind, not critical, and we need to do that by example. So many of you have come to my defense over the past four days I am literally overwhelmed by your words."
I have not always been the person who stands up to a bully. Sometimes I've been quiet. I've tried not to be the bully, but I know that there are times when I've been insensitive or careless with my words. I want to be that kid – the kid that stands up for people. And I'm going to work on that. I'm going to work on judging people less and speaking up more. Because my kids will learn from me.
Grand Central Station print available here.