Friends: Friends Everywhere

Today, I want to chat a little bit about friendships, bullying, and outcasts.  The aftermath of bullying comes across my news feed and onto the television way too often.  A student suspended for beating up a peer, a school district under fire for not responding seriously to threats, school shootings, and more.  Most of the efforts put forth to stop bullying seem to be spent deciding what to do with the offender once the situation comes to a head.  However, the resolution seems fairly straightforward to me and it appears that we are going about this the wrong way.  Maybe I’m just naïve.  Sure, blame can be put on school districts, parenting, and teachers, but I think the solution comes from somewhere else, the students themselves.  

Many of the kids we see in the news who committed violent acts at schools or elsewhere have a common thread.  These individuals identified as social outcasts with few steady and supportive relationships in their lives.  These acts, many identify after the fact, were inspired by bullying and the emotional distress it caused in their lives.  “Whoa! Hold up! You mean these people weren’t born this way?!”  I can already hear it.  My opinion is that, no, they were not.  These individuals committed their offenses as a reaction to years of emotional or even physical abuse at the hands of others.  (I say this while realizing that a small percentage of these cases can be explained by a severe mental disorder). So, if it’s the case that these individuals ‘snapped’ as a result of trauma, where do we fit in?

I am reminded of a guy with whom I attended high school.  We will call him Jerry.  Jerry is an inspiration for me because of his way of daily living.  Jerry was considered one of the popular guys at my high school.  He played sports, had lots of friends, served on student council, and was liked by most everyone in the school.  However, he used his popularity in a neat way.  Jerry made sure that no one ever felt left out.  At lunch he would go out of his way to invite those sitting alone to sit with him.  In class, when we paired up for group work, he would pair himself with those who were avoided by others.  During his free time, he would invite the quiet and lonely individuals at my school over to his house to hang out.  He went out of his way at every turn to make sure everyone at the school felt included.  I was floored by his genuine caring for each of his peers.  Jerry came into my life during my freshman year of high school. I was a particularly shy kid who had struggled with depression since the sixth grade.  I was not particularly good at making friends and my only close friend did not go to my school.  Lunch, group projects, walking the hallways, picking teams for gym class, and more were nightmares.  I had a great deal of anxiety surrounding these and my anxiety would get worse.  I just wanted to fit in, but was generally left out.  Jerry befriended me one day during gym class when he was picking teams.  I felt special, wanted, included.  For the sake of space I’ll skip ahead and tell you that Jerry and I became good friends and hung out a lot during that freshman year of high school.  I felt less anxious and depressed about going to school and looked forward to my time there.  

This is the solution I talked about earlier.  We are the solution.  That kid who sits by himself at lunch – invite him over.  That student that never gets picked – pick them.  The quiet ones at school – ask them about their day.  It is, in my opinion, these small acts of kindness and genuine caring that can change the violent and sad state of our nation’s youth.  Sure, the school and administration should try to implement programs that decrease bullying and abuse in the school, but they can only do so much.  The rest is up to us.  We are a strong and mighty army and can work swiftly toward transforming the outcasts in our lives into friends and, who knows, maybe even close friends.  The research is clear, friendship and social interaction have positive benefits emotionally and physically.  Let’s use this to our advantage.

So, now to the title.  Instead of seeing outcasts, let us see friends; friends everywhere.  I challenge you to go out of your way this week to be like Jerry and talk to or include someone who is typically left out at your school.  If each of us takes just five minutes to do this, imagine the impressive impact we could make.  The future is only as good as we make it, so let’s make it amazing, together!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR | David Walter

David is a counselor in training at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He will graduate with his MA in Counseling and Guidance in May 2016. He likes video games, indie music, spending time with friends, and being married to his beautiful wife. David loves jokes, so if you've got a good one, send it his way!