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M was a “problem child”. He was bright enough, but refused to apply himself, and instead spent his days trying to play the class clown and agitate the teacher. He acted tough and nonchalant, but I think it was all just a cover. In reality, he did care. And that’s why he agreed to the game.
The game had been created by another classmate, J. The rules were simple: M had to go a whole school day without doing anything bad or getting into trouble. No telling the teacher. The wager was ten dollars and an hour of “enslavement” to the other party.
That morning passed without incident. When the recess bell rang, kids flooded out onto the blacktop. The usually omnipresent yard-duties were absent when J and his friends surrounded M.
“Hey Stupid! I’m surprised you’ve lasted this long.”
Matt glowered, but did not retaliate. The name calling escalated, and soon others joined in, relishing the taste of power. When the bell rang, the group broke up reluctantly, and M slinked away. After lunch, the circle quickly formed again. A flurry of insults were tossed into the air, but prompted no response from M. Unsatisfied, J poked him, a taunting smile distorting his childish features.
“Too chicken to fight back, huh? BAK BAK!” When it became evident M wasn’t going to do anything, the assailants grew bolder. They kicked him—not too hard—but with enough force to bring him down, all the while jeering and calling him names. M just sat there, curled up, not saying a word.
Up until then, I had been a bystander—not actively participating, but not trying to stop them either. After all, who wanted to be the tattletale? And it wasn’t like M had ever done anything for me. But seeing tough, rebellious M on the ground, unwilling to defend himself, I was struck by overwhelming waves of pity and shame. It just wasn’t right. Someone had to intervene. So I took a deep breath, gathered my courage, and told the teacher.
The next day, M approached me, glowering.
“No one asked you to do that, you know?”
But the fact that he hadn’t asked was the biggest problem. I told him so, and he shot me an odd look.
“Yeah, whatever. Weirdo.” Then he stalked away. And I smiled, because I knew I had just been thanked.
Bullying is a horrifying struggle for many children and teenagers worldwide. A cruel name tossed out ignorantly or a lunch snatched away can be enough to shatter somebody. While people are heralding poverty and a failed economy as a nation’s worst problems, many continue to turn the other cheek at an issue that is just as widespread and deadly. Everyone has been a bully, victim, or bystander at some point in their life, whether or not it was intentional. But few people have been the one to actually try and stop an act of bullying from occurring. And that is what needs to change.