*Note: this post was inspired by the article found here.
When I was in High School I encountered real bullying. I didn’t identify it as much. It didn’t last long, but I was the bullied (not to be confused with the bully). There was this kid that hung out with some of my friends. Most of my friends were annoyed by him, but I really didn’t care for him at all. He was the kind of person who liked to do things to shock and get negative reactions from everyone around him.
At the beginning of the semester my sophomore year of High school I had lunch by myself. Most of my friends had a different lunch hour than I did and I hadn’t found new people to eat with. It was also a rare time that I actually bought lunch at school rather than brought my lunch to school. I sat in the lower commons where my friends and I usually hung out when along came this kid. He started to say things to annoy me. I tried to be friendly to him, but he was interested in something else. He kept taking food from my lunch. Annoyed I asked him to stop. He didn’t.
This continued for maybe a week. A mutual friend of my brother and mine happened to walk by and see the exchange. He told my brother what was going on. I didn’t see it, but I heard that my brother and his biggest friends surrounded the kid and told him to leave me alone or else. I never had issues with him again.
While this seems like the storyline out of some teen angst TV show, it really happened. Now I want to tell you a completely different story. When I was in sixth grade I was a weirdo (OK, I still am a weirdo, but anyway). I had zero friends at school and zero friends at church. I was alone. Now no one was mean to me. No one was awful and cruel. I just ended up sitting alone and reading a book most of the time rather than talking or interacting with others. I remember teachers telling me to put my book away and go play. I gave them the look like I’ve tried, I’d rather read than be rejected again. By the end of sixth grade I had two friends and was transferring next year to a different school.
While sixth grade was terrible, I feel like it prepared me for real life. I learned how to be alone, how to take rejection, and how important friends are. Without the moments of friendliness, I would have never recognized the importance and wonder of having friends.
While I don’t wish that pain and loneliness on anyone, I do think that we are facing a huge issue. We want to be Finland. I know that doesn’t make any sense to you, but let me explain. As a 27/28 year old student at CSU, I was able to see things my 19 year old cohorts couldn’t: the lies about life in Finland. We constantly had lectures comparing life in the US to life in Finland. What they didn’t tell was the lack of choices Finland has. They can name their children any name they want, as long as it is from the list of approved names. They can stay home as long as they want with their child, as long as they don’t use child care at all. There are all these little hidden lies behind these perfect looking fronts.
One class we had to watch a movie on how Finland handles bullying. They have hired special staff to be bully watchers. These staff are to look for and stop the littlest issue of bullying to the biggest. There was an issue it showed were teens were in teasing another teen, telling him he didn’t know how to pilot a boat. I’m not sure if he did or not, but was it really a big deal. I’m 29 and I still don’t know how to drive a boat. I’m sure I could learn, but if you put me in a boat and tossed me the keys and said drive, It would be a learning curve, but that is beside the point. These three kids got in trouble for telling this other kid he couldn’t drive a boat. Apparently pointing out the lack of ability of someone else (hey Princess Pea, you physically cannot drive a car) is bullying.
Later in this same video it showed elementary aged kids. One boy came over to the bully police and told them that these other kids wouldn’t let him play with them. The bully police took the boy to the group and asked why were they excluding this kid. They said that they didn’t want to play with him because he causes trouble for them. The bully police scolded them and made them play with this kid.
What. The. Heck.
OK here’s the thing. Not everyone is going to be kind. Not everyone is going to be your friend. In sixth grade I learned that. I learned that not everything works out like in the cartoons and TV shows catered to kids. Real life is harsh. Real life is hard. Real life is full of disappointments and hardships. That’s why it’s called REAL LIFE.
When I worked in before and after care I saw this scenario all the time. Group of kids rejected on other kid for some reason. I would talk to the kids and find what the issue or reason was. If it was valid (that kid takes over and bosses us around. That kid cries when we don’t do it his way) then I would let them make that choice. If it wasn’t valid (that kid is lame), I would encourage them to play together. If they still wouldn’t, I would help the kid find someone else to play with.
Before you get all indignant on me, imagine you were out with your friends catching up on good times and some authority figure appears with someone you may or may not know, but they’re not someone you usually associate with. This authority figure tells you that you must include this random person in your activities. But you were catching up with friends you haven’t seen since forever. This random person puts a damper on this.
That is kind of what it’s like when we force our children to befriend others. We are taking away their choices. I am all for teaching children to be kind. I am all for encouraging positive behavior and trying new things, but forcing a child to do something because someone is excluded is taking away their ability to choose.
When they grow up, graduate and apply for jobs, they will encounter rejection. When they date, they will encounter rejection. They will encounter being home alone while all their friends are off doing something else. It is part of life. These little experiences as young people prepare them for handling the rejection and heart break later.
To end on a better note: My parents taught me to make positive choices, to be kind, and to think of others, but never forced me to be friends with others. One day in high school (my sophomore year) my friends and I were sitting down to eat lunch. I noticed a kid sitting all alone. I invited him to sit with us instead. My friends tried to talk to him, but he was very quiet. I figured he was sitting with us because he felt forced, but he had really wanted to be alone. A month later I saw him again. He told me that he had just transferred and I was the only one who had been nice to him on his first day. We didn’t become best friends, but he was always nice to me after that. I didn’t do if for recognition or glory. I did it because I knew what it was like to be alone and rejected. I did it because I wanted to, not because some authority figure came by and said “Do it”. Because my action was my own choice and not that of someone else, it was more genuine. It meant more to me. It defined me. It made me a better person. I wouldn’t have gotten that lesson and experience if I had been forced to do it.
Let’s face it, any act of kindness that is forced is fake.
How have you experienced making a choice to be kind over being forced to be kind?