You are ten years old and in the fifth grade. Some of the other kids in your class have taken to picking on you. It’s sport for them. They like to do it.
Throughout the day there are many snipes and put downs; but nowhere is as bad as in the locker room for gym. The locker room is close quarters due to the lockers, locker doors, and benches. It is a place where you have to take-off most of your clothes, to change. Most of all, it is a place where there is never an adult present. Ever.
In the locker room your attackers take open season. The barbs, threats and put-downs are continuous and vile. Not only do you feel vulnerable, you feel surrounded. There is nothing you can do or say to defend yourself. You are alone, half naked, and the wolves are nipping at your legs and arms, closing in. A few other kids chime in with little laughs or yeahs, maybe nervous ones. You feel that everyone in the room not only loathes you, but is part with the attack.
As one of the kids, I have a strong feeling that there’s something terribly wrong going on. It isn’t right. In fact, I like you and feel that the behavior of your attackers is weirdly aggressive. Their behavior is nothing like anything I’d accept in myself, nor in many, nor well, for all that, not in anyone.
I don’t say anything.
Saying something might divert the attack to me, which I definitely do not want. Saying something might isolate me. What if I’m the only one who feels this way? Saying something might put me in your camp, and I definitely don’t want to be in your camp. It’s surrounded by wolves, it’s dark, and your campfire is failing with the steady rain.
Maybe I start to believe some of it. Maybe I think it’s not okay that I like you. Maybe in a weird way I’m a little fascinated by the scene. It’s drama. Maybe I wonder why you don’t stand up for yourself. Maybe I suspect that you must be weak.
Pretty soon I have various rationalizations to help me feel okay about not saying anything. It probably doesn’t occur to me that your fear or inability to defend yourself is no less than my own fear or inability to effectively say something. Mostly I’m glad I’m not you. I’ll mind my own business.
Here’s the thing. If I say something. If I put the spotlight on the attackers for even a short time. If I question what’s wrong with them. If I say that I have a problem with what they are doing. Their behavior is wrong and we all know it. It’s not me. It’s not you. It’s them.
Now you know that it isn’t everyone in the room. You’re not surrounded anymore. And the rest of the room knows that it isn’t everyone in the room. It’s just a few kids acting out.
When instead we let them get away with it, they gain power over all of us. Dominance. They like that.
It’s possibly too much to ask or expect from a ten year old. It’s a lot to ask of an adult. However, when someone speaks up. When someone calls to question the behavior of the attackers it makes a world of difference. It makes a world of difference to you. Us? We become less like dogs and sheep.