Teach Compassion to Break the Cycle of Bullying

I read an interesting article the other day titled “Why I Told My Daughter about My Bullying Past.” The author describes how she told her six year old daughter about the bullying she received after gaining 15 pounds at summer camp, and how mean her friends were to her. Her daughter had recently been reported for excluding another little girl, so the author decided it was time to “come clean.” The story captured my attention for a number of reasons, not the least of which was my own history of being the “fat girl” from the time I entered kindergarten until the day I graduated from high school.

Until I read this article, I never thought about the merciless teasing, the exclusion and thoughtless comments I lived through as bullying, only as the ramifications of my size.

I believed I deserved it.

How horrifying is this? Nobody deserves to feel they are receiving their just desserts (if you will) for not fitting the standard mold, yet it happens every hour, every minute in our society. I hear my friends – grown up friends, now – still talking smack about “fat people.” My eight year old niece once said she couldn’t eat cake because it would make her fat. The distaste on her face was palpable. I wonder how many children she has hurt with her fat-shaming… AtlantaTeaserBusSh_1232234c

There’s an old saying that “pretty is as pretty does.” I almost certain my beautiful little niece does not necessarily intend to hurt people’s feelings when she expresses her disgust and fear about fat people, but as a lifelong sufferer of fat shaming, I can tell you it does hurt. And while that’s probably my own insecurity and feelings of being deserving of others’ dislike, after having undergone countless hours of therapy dealing with an abusive childhood and early adulthood, I am now at nearly 50 years old coming to terms with the vibrant, intelligent, creative and loving human being I am, and always have been. I just didn’t know it. And I’m still not sure it’s true when I am threatened by the offhand comments of an eight year old, or by the meanness of the anti-childhood obesity campaign advertisements. Shaming people is just plain mean. Where is our compassion?

So, how do we fix it? On a societal level, I don’t know. What I do know is this – teach your children to love themselves and to treat others the way they want to be treated. This ancient Golden Rule is as relevant today as it was back in the day. My mother always told me that kids are just plain mean, but I don’t think they start out that way.

When I look into my 18-month old grandson’s eyes, I find it hard to believe that he is judging others harshly. Children might be curious about why people look different or act differently and that’s ok. It is up to us to speak with compassion and kindness celebrating the many differences between people.

My heart goes out to the author of this article. Even to this day, this woman believes she has overcome her own bullying, yet she cannot stop herself from taking a dig at the “popular kids.” When she describes one major bullying incident she endured, she called the perpetrators “Barbie and Ken,” an unkind reference to plastic, unrealistic ideal people. The author tells how she herself became a bully once she grew out of her awkward phase, aiming for the weak and easy targets. She knew who they were, because she had been one herself. Without having been taught compassion and kindness, she became the predator and, apparently, still struggles with it today.

The author hopes that by telling her story, she will break the bullying cycle with her daughter. With this first step, I hope she can. I pray we all can.

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