Earlier today, I had intended to write a blog post about this no sugar experiment my roommate and I are doing, but then I went to the movies. And I cried. I shook my hands at the movie screen a few times, laughed a few times, but I mostly cried. The movie that got me all worked-up is the documentary Bully. In short, it’s a wonderfully crafted film that follows five different families who are struggling with different aspects of the bullying crisis in America. There’s a family whose son ended his own life at age 17 after being harassed at school for years. A teenage girl whose whole family has been ostracized since she came out as being gay. And then there’s the 12 year-old boy, Alex, who has a heart of gold and a gorgeous smile, but he comes off as “weird” to other kids and is constantly physically and verbally bullied by classmates.
I’m not writing a movie review on the YMCA blog (though I will say it was amazing and powerful and worth seeing–check out the trailer here). I’m writing about this movie today because the parents and young people in the film, while they struggle and feel deep pain, are working to try to make change and to improve the lives of children in America, and that falls right in line with our work at the Y. One area of focus for the YMCA is Youth Development. We believe that all kids deserve the opportunity to discover who they really are and what they can achieve. Through our many different programs, from childcare to sports to leadership development, we work to cultivate values and skills in children that will help them make positive choices in their lives. But this work isn’t just the responsibility of the YMCA–it falls on us all.
The film tonight showed just how much power lay in our words and actions–how deeply they can hurt and how high they can lift. We may not be on the playground or the school bus anymore, but us adults can fall into similar patterns, like gossiping and forming cliques, that share the same elements of childhood bullying. I don’t have children and don’t know if I will ever have any, but I want to set a positive example for any kids I might encounter by living and speaking in a way that doesn’t demean or hurt others. Doing that won’t always be easy or comfortable (just flip on the TV or open a magazine; our media is often glorified gossip) but it’s something I think we could all stand to do.
To learn more about the movement to end bullying, please check out Stand for the Silent, an organization founded by the Smalley family after they lost their 11 year-old son to suicide.