With days getting ever more crowded, I have taken to getting my daily movement in during the early morning hours to free up some time in the afternoons. This is usually a peaceful time for me, even though there might be cars whizzing by on their way to work, school, or other obligations. I review my day and breathe in fresh air that sets a clear mind for the coming hours.
Today’s walk started out like any other…I hit the road and said a little prayer that spring would make itself a little more obvious as I readjusted my gloves and headband. Not long after I had started, however, I saw something that stopped me in my tracks. Imagine one of those movie moments where the character just stands there and stares—that was me. As I rounded the corner, I noticed a car that I had passed by nearly every day, several times a day, but today it was a little different. Someone had taken puffy paint or some sort of adhesive and written a derogatory term on the windshield and drew something resembling a male’s genitals on the hood. My heart ached.
Maybe the owner had done something to upset others, and this was retaliation. Maybe it was a joke from some really great “friends.” Or maybe it was a malignant way to really ruin the start of someone else’s day.
I stood there, like I said, for a long time staring. I considered going up to the car and just wiping it all off, but I figured at this point the owners were already awake and would see me. But I continued my prayers and shared one for the owner of this car, may it all be a joke, may s/he walk outside and laugh and not be crushed.
This all brings me to something I feel passionately about—bullying. As a sibling of a young man with special needs, I have always been hyperaware of the feelings of others. I felt the strong desire to protect him. However, I did not always follow my heart in this regard. I remember being out at the school playground and witnessing other children getting bullied. I never stepped up. I just thanked my lucky stars that for today, it was not me. This is something I have had to forgive myself for.
Why do we do this? Why do we have to put down someone else? I have come to realize a lot of it has to do with our own insecurity. If I put him down, then I will feel better about myself. At least I am better than her. Thank goodness they are picking on him today and not me.
Along the spectrum of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs you will find the need to belong. If we are part of some group that means someone else is not part of it. So we better do what we can to stay part of it, thus we make sure others are out. This, I feel, is a big catalyst for why we see such horrific behaviors amongst our youth.
Over the years, I was certainly a victim from time to time of a derogatory phrase (“Fat Mandy”) or shoved out of a group of girls for one reason or another. I do not think I had it as bad as some kids today do, but I can empathize. Thus, now as I am surrounded by youth and even adults, I make sure to find the one who looks lost, who might be on the outskirts, and make sure she feels welcome and open. I want to create a space where all around me feel that they can display their best, weirdest, most outrageous selves without regret, apology, or doubt. Never apologize for being yourself.
So if you ever feel that someone is deserving of a term across the windshield or an image on the hood, I ask you to consider what may be going on in her life. Maybe she is experiencing the divorce of her parents. Maybe he has a medical trauma. Maybe she just cannot figure out how to be herself or fit in (which means standing out).
Never apologize for being yourself. And be determined to never apologize for someone else doing the same.
Decide to display “AWESOME” on your own windshield.