The news of late has been shocking. Teen suicides that should have been preventable are grabbing headlines and the bullying and the negative behavior behind them are the same sorts of things we see every day. I know that I'm surrounded by seemingly good people making bad comments every day, and now having see a rash of suicides and other accounts of bullying or injury because of it, I think it's time the rest of us took action. The victim of bullying often can't get out of the situation by himself or herself, but friends can help.
Get Your Mind in the Right Place
I can't tell you what to think or say, but I can tell you that you're entitled to your opinion. Where things get a bit murky for me is when people start sharing opinions. If someone asks me what I think about a certain lifestyle, it can be a challenge to explain myself without putting down those with different opinions. These questions tend to be very personal in nature and the discussions get heated. Because people react so strongly to lifestyle-type questions, we (meaning society) like to use labels because you're sure to get a reaction from someone. But where does having an opinion cross the line into the murkier waters of bullying or degrading language?
Think through where you stand on an issue before you try to reach out to others who are in the midst of bullying issues. If you're anything like me, you don't have to wave flags and list the merits of a particular lifestyle to support a person's choice to live how they like. I do what is right for me, and trust that others have the right idea of what's best for them. If someone doesn't like the way other people live, it's not really their business to share those opinions or to use them as a basis for insults and bullying.
Stop Bullying From the Trenches
We are in the trenches, my friends. We're the ones walking down the hallways or in the workplace hearing the jokes others tell or listening curiously to the gossip. The more we share stories and gossip about people who are "different", the more we are helping bullies find ammunition. Many victims of bullying, especially girls, are attacked by many different people throughout the day. They can never get away from the names, the rumors, the insults, the embarrassing questions designed to upset them. I know you've seen it happen because I've seen it, too.
On the school bus one girl asks another where she buys pants that make her look so fat. A boy walks by someone in the hall and mutters a name under his breath so that nobody but the victim can hear. A group of girls sits looking at someone else and laughing and whispering. Boys threaten each other until they are afraid to enter the locker room. Pictures are taken and shared, videos are shot and played online. It's horrible, it's real and it's all around us. If you're not doing anything about it, you're condoning it by default.
To start making a difference in the bullying out there, we need to do what we can to stop the bullies while also supporting the victims. If your friends start acting in an ugly way, shake your head and walk away to sit with the girl they are attacking. You don't have to say a word, but your actions speak loudly. If you hear something ugly in the hallway, be bold and confront the person who said it. Then smile at the victim to let him or her know that someone out there cares.
Be loud about bullying, call people out on ugly comments and don't stand for them in your presence. If you and your friends start walking away from others or openly discouraging bullying behaviors, the movement will spread. Nobody likes it, and many people just accept that it's a part of growing up. The truth is that it bothers most of us. What kind of change could we make if everyone just stopped tolerating it?