I have been saying throughout this election that no matter what happens on November 8, on November 9, we’ve got work to do. Here’s one of my mandates:
I was bullied as a child. Teachers turned a blind eye. School administrators wouldn’t do anything about it. The prevailing attitude was “that’s just what kids do.” It got so bad that I had to withdraw from my public school halfway through junior high, and move to a Catholic school in a neighboring town. For years, I watched painfully as other children suffered in a similar way. Still, people failed to speak out about it. Even as teenage suicide rates rose.
Then, things started to change. It was too late for me, but I took heart when parents, school teachers and administrators, and community leaders started not only to speak out against bullying, but also take action to stop it. We had finally moved forward to protect vulnerable children and young people! I have promoted and encouraged such efforts, and challenged such behavior among students at our Jesuit schools. I shared my experience of being bullied with the student body at one of our Jesuit high schools some years ago, while urging them not to be bullies, but men for others. A few years later, I was disappointed to see one of our graduates recalling that talk on Facebook, with derision. Yet, I was also heartened by the fact that he remembered parts of it verbatim, even as he mocked it. Clearly, it had made an impression.
Today, I feel that bullying as “business as usual” has just been reaffirmed on a grand scale. I hope that I’m wrong. But I fear for our children, and for all those who are considered “different” or “other.” Today, I am more determined than ever to double down on my own efforts to combat bullying in whatever ways that I can. I will continue in my commitment to engage in civil discourse, even when others’ meanness tempts me to respond in kind. I hope that some of you, with me, will choose to do the same. Jesus was not a bully, and over and over he stood up to them. I have been marked for life by the pain I experienced in my youth, but I also have been marked by the saving power of Jesus, and choose to follow his example.