Recently, I was asked if all this “bully stuff” has gone too far—if somehow we as a society are blowing things out of proportion, and we should just let kids be kids.  I’ve been rolling the conversation over and over in my mind, and the conclusion I keep coming to is no.  No, we are not overreacting to this “bully stuff.”  I think we are just finally putting a name to some social behaviors that have always been part of the under current of kid culture.  And we are designating those behaviors not acceptable, which to me, is a good thing.

Let’s face it.  Kids are mean.  I wish they weren’t, but we wouldn’t have phrases like “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” otherwise.  That phrase doesn’t work, fyi.  I used it once at the bus stop when I was in kindergarten, and the kids proceeded to actually throw sticks and stones at me.  Was I bullied?  Maybe.  Was I scarred for life?  No, not really.  But, that doesn’t mean that these behaviors can’t escalate, get out of control, and really cause a child harm.  My nomadic childhood prevented me from establishing a history with any true bullies, but they were there—no matter which school I attended, they were always there.  It never took long for me to learn who was “in charge” on the playground, at the bus stop, or in the classroom, and I made a point to keep my distance.  But sometimes, kids don’t have that option.  They are targeted by those dominant personalities, and fall into a negative feedback cycle where sometimes their own reactions to those personal attacks feed those attacks over and over, year after year.   Put yourself in the shoes of that kid—the kid whose lunchbox gets stolen on the first day of school, or the kid that gets shoved in the hallway going to class.  Think how it feels to be the kid locked in the bathroom stall, waiting for the right time to escape, or the kid stung with a deluge of rubber band “hornets” in the a dark corner of a hallway.  Just imagine the anxiety as the boy who gets squashed on the school bus every day on the way home—just biding time until his stop finally arrives.  It happens.  And, it happens a lot more often than you can imagine.

“Treat people as you want to be treated.”  Some people call it the Golden Rule.  I just call it good manners.  Saying please and thank you in everyday dialogue, smiling at the checker at the grocery store, letting another car enter your lane of traffic, helping someone pick up their spilled box or bag—none of these actions take any extra energy or effort, and yet make the day that much brighter.  Take it one step further with actions like encouraging a friend with a compliment when they are down, picking up extra trash in a parking lot, giving away that McDonald’s happy meal toy to the eager toddler in line, or even opening the door for a stranger, and there you have some active kindness—acts that might take a little extra effort, but that can only make our world a better place—acts that could start a chain reaction of kindness.

Schools are the war zone for bullying behavior, and every school wants a positive school culture.  But, it takes teachers, administrators, counselors, and every student actively teaching and reminding each other of those basic good manners and random acts of kindness to make that school culture a reality.  Decatur ISD has taken an extra step by also implementing Rachel’s Challenge, a program focused on creating that positive environment by creating a chain reaction of compassion.  For those unfamiliar with Rachel, she was the first victim of the Columbine Shooting in 1999. Her family created this program to celebrate the way she lived, the way she inspired, and the way she loved.  Her story will make you stop; it will make you think; it will make you change.  Her essays were insightful, and her life’s mission was noble.  Rachel chose to live her life with purpose.  She chose everyday to put other people’s feelings to heart, everyday, and to make a difference in their life by showing compassion.  Her story touches our students, and this program could make a difference in the lives of kids every single day.  I hope that we, as a society, can make the choice to start a chain reaction of kindness, to live our lives with purpose, and to bring up a generation of children focused on the consequences of their own actions.  Because only then can we make that positive culture change, a change Rachel Scott has challenged us all to accept.  By identifying bully behavior, we are on the road to making that difference, one smile and one simple act of kindness at a time.

(more information on Rachel’s Challenge can be found at www.rachelschallenge.org)