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A kid sitting alone at lunch in a room crowded with other students. A kid being whispered about in the hallways, leading to snickers and side-eye glances their way. A kid being picked last on the kickball team who receives eye rolls and sighs from the team that gets “stuck” with them. All of these are examples of exclusion in its highest form, which can be found within middle and high school bullying. Unfortunately, I’m all too familiar with these experiences.
When I was in sixth grade, my best friend at the time switched schools, and I felt dejected after I realized that I would not have her by my side through the rest of middle school. While I was wholeheartedly disappointed by her sudden departure, I knew I still had all our other friends to do homework with, play with at recess, and sit next to in class, so I tried to make the most of an unfortunate situation.
What I didn’t count on, however, was all those friends turning on me and treating me as if we had never been friends in the first place.
Without warning, once my best friend left, I went from being a part of the group to being ostracized. I was completely blindsided, and I didn’t know why I was being treated this way. Perhaps they only felt I was cool enough to hang out with by association of my best friend, and after she was gone I didn’t matter anymore. Whatever the reason, the warm feeling of being welcomed into our circle of friends vanished, and I was left with the unbearable sense of being a social pariah because now I was considered a “weird, uncool loser.”
Even though they treated me like an outcast, I tried everything to be their friend again because I didn’t understand what changed and why they acted as if they all hated me. I tried sitting with them at lunch, in “my” old seat, and they all told me to get up and move so someone else could sit there. As a result, I usually spent my days eating quickly and trying to get outside so I wouldn’t have to hear them laughing at me eating alone.
When I offered to help them with their homework, it just made them get upset and say things like “She thinks she’s so smart.” I even tried giving them compliments on their school work and outfits, flashing shy smiles and little waves across the room, and joining in on conversations from time to time, but nothing worked. Ultimately, my old friends were no longer mine, and I meant nothing to them.
One day, the realization that I had lost my friends truly solidified in my mind when I walked into class and found a photo resting on top of my desk. It was a picture of me, cut out from the group photo we had taken at the beginning of that school year. I looked to my right and saw my former friends all staring at me as I started to tear up, expressionless looks on their faces. I had never felt more alone in my life.
I believe that my school experience would have been drastically different if someone had taken the time to listen to what was happening to me. There were many times I told my parents and teachers what was going on at school, but like most adults who don’t understand how severe bullying can be and what it can do to a child, they just told me to “let it go.”
I even remember my principal at the time telling me to “ignore it because it won’t matter when I’m older” (thanks, buddy, it still matters).
Having compassion for someone going through a difficult time like bullying is so important, and I would have given anything for my parents to have gone into school to have a serious talk with my principal, or for my teachers to have listened to me as I begged to be placed in another group for school projects because the thought of working with my old friends terrified me due to what they might do or say.
Unfortunately, I didn’t receive any support or intervention, and the bullying continued through the rest of middle school. I had to endure these girls treating me like a loser while I just tried to get through the days until high school—which was no better, but that’s a story for another time. While my experience with bullying was traumatic, to say the least, and toyed with my sense of self-worth and lovability, making me feel as though there was no way I could ever make true friends because I wasn’t “cool” enough, the one positive I can take away from it is the compassion that I’ve developed for others.
If I see someone being bullied, I’m going to stand up for them no matter what, especially since nobody ever stood up for me. When my own little sister was being picked on during middle school (she went to the same school I had gone—of course, nothing had changed), I took notice. She would come home most days upset and crying because the girls she thought were her friends made fun of her and excluded her too. It was like looking at a mirror image of myself at that age, and I knew I had to do something.
So, I went to the school myself and let the principal know that I wouldn’t accept what was happening to my sister, that the same things happened to me when I had gone to school there, and that real changes needed to be done in order to see progress. He said he would “keep an eye on her.” While that didn’t solve all her problems, seeing my little sister smile at me for standing up for her was one of the best things in the world.
Beyond bullying, the compassion I feel for others extends to people who are going through a hard time.
If I see someone alone and crying, looking like they’re having a rough day, or could use a smile, I’m going to do what I can to turn the negative situation around. I know what it’s like to feel down on your luck, worthless, and unwanted. If I can do something small for someone, like leaving a coworker a nice note in their locker because they’ve had a bad day or listening to a friend talk about a breakup they’ve just had and offering advice, I am going to do it because that’s what I wish someone would have done for me all those years ago.
If someone had shown me a little more compassion growing up, I feel like I would be a much different person than the one I am today. Due to the bullying I experienced during my school years, the negative emotions and feeling I had have carried over into my adult life. Thoughts like, “Do my friends even really like me?” run through my mind from time to time. I’m 23 years old, and I still get nervous about group work in college for fear that one of my group members will start to harass me. It shouldn’t be that way.
However, maybe it’s a good thing I went through all of this because it helped me become a more compassionate, caring, and empathetic person. That’s why I always try to make everyone I meet feel welcome and included because who knows? Maybe some of the people I meet have the same thoughts as I do.
I often hear, “Sydney, why are you so nice to everyone?” And the answer is simple: because I know what it’s like to have people not be nice to me.
Life would have been easier and a little less lonely during middle school if the people around me had treated me kinder and made me feel included. But, even though they treated me as if I didn’t matter, it doesn’t mean that I can’t set a better example by making a positive impact on others’ lives. I even extend some compassion to my school bullies. People change, and I hope the girls who made my life hard realized what they did and have tried to become better toward others as atonement. Treating others with kindness, respect, and compassion can change their whole lives. It costs nothing to be a good person, yet it can make a world of difference to someone. After my experience, I will never let someone feel like they’re left out or alone as I did.
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