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To my friends who used to be or are now being bullied, I wish to tell a story of my own to show that you are not alone. I also wish to share this story to show that bullying environments can easily be created based on how we treat academic success. However, not every case is as severe as the one I am about to tell. It is also important to note that not all praise for academic success will create a hostile environment for those who struggle academically. Yet, in the story I will tell that is exactly the result.
Most people don’t think twice when they see an award ceremony at a school. At my school, my friends and I hated to go. We couldn’t sit in certain areas if we weren’t smart enough. This was not a written rule but that is how we knew we had to sit. Smart kids couldn’t be seen with kids that didn’t get good grades. This type of seating arrangement always made my friends and I hate ourselves for not being smart. It hurt to hear people walk by saying horrible things about themselves so that all in the room could hear. It hurt to know these comments were actually directed at us and that nobody stopped it. Even now, later in life, I cannot stand being at any sort of award ceremony even if it’s getting a diploma or a college degree. I am simply not comfortable.
I remember sitting in class after the award ceremony and a kid was stabbing me over and over again with a pen. I told him to stop. I got in trouble because I was disrupting class and because the other kid had good grades he didn’t get in trouble at all. It is a strange feeling to get yelled at for defending myself and I still don’t understand what I did wrong. To this day I am a human punching bag, I don’t stick up for myself in the slightest because of a fear of getting in trouble.
If we tried to be better, if we tried to be smart, if we asked for help, our teachers would turn us away. They turned us away because they say it’s a waste of time to help someone who doesn’t try. But weren’t we trying? Weren’t we asking for help? That’s what you’re supposed to do when you don’t understand right? It feels absolutely horrible to feel like you and your friends are thought of as a waste of time. Because of the ways our teachers treated us, kids thought it was okay to say or do whatever they wanted to us.
For those that may now be wary of congratulating those that succeed. There is no need to be wary. My example is an extreme case. My friends and I were treated poorly because the teachers lead the example. As long as those that do not achieve high academic success are not singled out there will be no problems. If this is occurring to you or a loved one, it is important to surround yourself or your loved one with people who value what you can do. This is the best way to treat any negative feelings you or a loved one may feel towards themselves.
About the author: Blake Johnson is a student of history at the University of St. Thomas and comes from a small town in MN. He is dedicated to the fight against bullying through an academic lens and hopes to see his work provide help to others within his lifetime.
Creating A Culture of Kindness
I have this friend, rather I used to have this friend, who was bullied in high school. I never explicitly saw him being bullied but when we became friends almost four years later through what seemed like a serendipitous turn of events, I saw how those experiences haunted his everyday life. His self-confidence fluctuated between non-existent and a residual all time low. I knew he doubted I’d stick around or thought he did something wrong when I wasn’t around or didn’t have time for him. He remembered the names of every friend who ended up leaving him and all I wanted was to never end up on that list. So with every thoughtful word of appreciation he shared with me, I felt more and more pressure to never disappoint or abandon him. I couldn’t be authentic with someone who I was constantly afraid of disappointing. My kindness turned me into a caretaker instead of a friend.
I was stretching myself thin but I continued to bear the weight of being his sole support system. I was exhausted but I felt bad to walk away because it felt unkind to do so and the last thing I wanted to do was be unkind. Acts of kindness that my friend longed for meant the denial of personal happiness and kindness towards myself. Rather than doing things I wanted to do, I felt obliged to cheerfully accompany him to comic book shops or take interest in video games and TV shows I had never heard of before – many of which I did not really care for. When I was tired or under the weather, I would panic and fret over canceling plans with him because I knew it would ruin his day. Whether we were watching a movie, studying in a coffee shop or shopping at the mall, eventually I got to the point where I did not feel comfortable being my true self; I was bewildered by how I feigned interest in things I had no interest in and constantly felt the need to be the adult in the relationship. We talked about things he wanted to talk about. We watched movies he wanted to watch. We went places he wanted to go. I felt helpless to push him towards compromise or to even say no because I did not want to be unkind. But how could that be kindness? Anxiety overwhelmed me. I had begun with nothing but good intentions and ended up hurting my friend and myself in the process.
The way I understood kindness then was hollow. Throughout grade school and into high school, I was urged like most children are, to always be kind. However, no one taught me what kindness truly was. I can’t identify one instance in my life which instilled in me this empty version of kindness but somewhere in my childhood I internalized it. I understood kindness far more as an individualistic effort than a collaborative one. This created a version of kindness that was inauthentic, trapped me in a cycle of burnout and even went so far as to instill a savior-complex in me. It was impossible to carry my friend on my own, but in solidarity with a community I could have walked alongside him. Kindness may start as an individual choice but it should take place within a culture of kindness and become a healthy habit not a one-time act or worse, a life-long burden. Perhaps if society shifted the connotations of kindness away from individualistic roots, rather than manifest as sparse individual acts done by a select minority, kindness could grow into a healthy collaborative culture-based practice.
When kindness is solely understood as individualistic, it morphs into unrestricted self-sacrifice and constructs a divisive savior-complex. The self-sacrifice causes burnout and denies us the practice of self-care and kindness. Burnout leads us to an unfortunate fork in the road where you can either walk away exhausted, leaving behind the person you had originally hoped to help or equally detrimental, you can internalize the act of suffering for the sake of others and continue down the road of kindness with a savior-complex. The savior-complex is ultimately inauthentic and ineffective because it normalizes putting others needs before your own in an unhealthy way and oftentimes ends up creating an imbalance of power between yourself and the person or people you are trying to help. What’s more alarming is that as the savior-complex implies, the goal becomes about saving people and not guiding them towards helping themselves. The goal of those with a savior-complex separates people. You are either a savior or a victim in need of saving. The goal of kindness should be creating a community of kindness that unites people.
I think back to my own experience with my friend and wonder how things would have gone differently had that been the way I understood kindness. Rather than try to balance the role of caretaker and friend, I could have been a caring friend who supported him in addition to other friends and actual caretakers like parents, teachers and therapists. When I felt burned out I could have stepped away in kindness towards myself while feeling confident that there was a sufficient support system in place that I could return to later. Rather than feeling like I was the only one who could save him which fostered inauthenticity, I could have supported him in his journey towards saving himself. That is what I needed. It’s what is still needed. We must move towards creating a community-based culture of kindness. To keep kindness authentic, we must understand it is a communal responsibility. Kindness is a vital part of the solution to permanently ending bullying. It is not the band-aid we can slap on the problem. It is not optional nor is it sustainable if it remains individualistic. Kindness is an individual responsibility that must morph into a communal one. It is the condition under which we all must build communities of support and compassion. To create a culture of kindness is the transformation we need in order to make real gains towards ending bullying and ensuring that every child bullied or not, feels safe and supported.
About the author: This author would like to remain anonymous.
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