“Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one,” said Bill Gates. Be nice to the “fat kid,” because one day, you may become so yourself. Be nice to the “outsider,” because one day you might be the one that doesn’t fit in. Be nice to the “loser” in class, because one day, it could be your child who is labeled the loser. Be nice to the “ditsy girl” because one day you may be her friend. Everyone is shaped by their experiences that make them who they are. We should all take the time to consider these differences before judging others, because the damage of childish cruelty causes irreparable harm.
In my eighth grade class there was a boy named Patrick Walker. Patrick muttered to himself, shook his bowl cut hair in a nervous twitch, and wore the most unflattering version of the school uniform. The other kids in class would tease him if he raised his hand and answered a teacher’s question. They made fun of what he ate for lunch and the shoes he wore, his funny smell and his slightly yellow teeth. Every day was a competition to see who could come up with the funniest thing to say to Chris or about him. Whenever my schoolmates were exceptionally bored, they would inevitably revert to talking about Chris, and unfailingly find something else to pick on.
But to me, the situation didn’t feel right; not that I was above the eighth grade stigma of making a wise crack at a girl’s tissue stuffed bra, or a boy’s failure to conceal a crush, but this felt different. EVERYONE made fun of Chris, and he did not even seem to mind. So, I would say ‘hi’ to Chris in the halls, basically treating him like I would anyone I didn’t know very well. Whenever conversation with my friends and peers turned to Chris, I would wait patiently until they were done talking about him, and jump in at any hint of a change in conversation.
In my little eighth grade world, I could not think of enough words to describe the disgust that I felt at being the only one who realized that I didn’t gain anything from making fun of him. I was just as uncomfortable and self-conscious as any other thirteen-year-old, but I was not willing to undermine anyone else’s self esteem to boost my own.
Looking back on my middle school experience I wish I had been strong enough to stand up and say something. I wish I had been witty enough to make some smart-ass remark and shut up the cruel kids in the class. But I understand why I didn’t. I was not self confident enough to say something that might make other people think of me differently. It is understandable that I did not speak up but that does not make it right.
“Nerds” are not the only ones who get picked on. Anyone who is different—the girl with the stutter, the chubby kid with the funny odor, the girl that wears too many clashing colors, and even the pretty, ditsy girl also feel the pain of abuse. In my middle school class, the other person singled out was Ella Thomson. She was very pretty, and the type of girl who always dressed up for class and wore precisely placed make-up. She was also the type of girl who, at every opportunity presented, would say or do the most theatrical things possible in a bid for attention. Sometimes, this meant acting deliberately stupid. Although somewhat spaced out, Ella was naturally bubbly and kind, but her need for attention made her seem a great deal ditsier than she actually was.
For this, she was picked on to no end. Even when she said something that was not silly, our classmates would twist her words to make it sound like she had. Although she didn’t dress inappropriately or date, her pretty, made-up looks had her branded the class slut. She was nice to everyone, but she was still singled out. Her schoolmates needed one more person to put down, one more person to boost their self esteem, one more person to make them feel smart, funny, and powerful at someone else’s expense. And because no one else was nice to her, she clung to me. By following me everywhere and talking to me constantly, she essentially forced me to become her friend.
Eventually, Ella became my best friend, since she constantly followed me we were always together. I came to like her more and more as I realized what a fun and interesting person she was, not at all stupid as I had first judged. I was there for her when no one else was. We remained best friends in high school, and she was able to return the favor for me when I went through rough times. At first, I didn’t liked Ella, thinking she was nothing more than a stupid, pretty-girl, but if I had not given her a chance to show me what was underneath, then I would have missed out on having the best friend I have ever had.
When you leave a room, people do not remember what you said as well as they remember how you made them feel. It says more about your self confidence if you don’t have to make fun of someone than if you do. So every time you hear a person stutter, or answer a question quickly in class, or show up to school in a unique outfit, give them the benefit of the doubt and just smile. Smile and accept, smile and appreciate that some people are different than you. Smile and know that people change and grow. As Albert Schweitzer once said, “Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.” This I believe.
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