Growing up in Provo, Utah, I found myself the target of bullying for most of my adolescent years. It started when I was eight-years old and the bully was a guy I went to school and church with. (I’m going to call him Guy, which is not his real name. There’s no point in publishing his real name, as you’ll soon see why.)
Guy was a kid who was adopted and who was sandwiched between a picture perfect older sister and a snooty, spoiled younger sister. I suspect Guy might have been physically abused as a kid, but I have no solid evidence for that suspicion other than his behavior toward his peers, which was often abusive.
When we were eight, we were both in the same Primary class in church. (Primary in the Mormon Church would be like Bible Camp/Study in other denominations. It's for kids between the ages of three and 12.) During the summer, we’d go on class outings and try to do fun stuff as a group; things like bowling or trips to a museum or whatever eight-year olds did in those days in Provo. Our Primary teacher, whose name escapes me, asked each of us for suggestions for things we could do that summer. I’d just been to the local dairy coop at Brigham Young University a week or so previously and had learned where milk came from and how it ended up in a bottles on the grocery shelf. Not heady stuff at all, but for an eight-year old, pretty cool nonetheless!
So, when Sister Primary Teacher asked for suggestions, I raised my little hand and said, with all the enthusiasm of my eight years, “Let’s go to the dairy farm!” Those words would follow and haunt me for many, many years, thanks to Guy and his meanness. He teased me about that from third grade all the way up to ninth grade. The only reason he stopped teasing me is because we moved away and I went to a new high school. But every chance he got, he’d tell people, “Janet wants to go the dairy farm” or some variation thereon.
Now, I’ll grant you, it doesn’t seem all that awful, but when you’re eight and you want your friends to like you or when you’re a teenager and you’re just trying to fit in, having someone constantly harassing you for something so innocent is definitely not fun.
Today, I read an article in the San Francisco Chronicle about a young lady who has been bullied at a number of schools she has attended in Marin County, California, to the point that her mother has had to pull her out of classes and start home schooling her. Most of the harassment Olivia Gardner is experiencing is what is called cyberbullying. But whether it’s online or in your face, the result is still the same. Hurt. Shame. Disenfranchisement. Isolation. Fear. Anxiety. And—bottom line—it’s wrong.
What seems to be missing in society—and has been, it seems, for time immemorial—is the application of The Golden Rule in its various forms—“do unto others as you would have them do unto you” or “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” or “if you won’t say it to their face, don’t say it behind their back.” Well, you get the idea. And sure, none of us are ever 100% good about words of kindness all the time, but bullying is the lowest, vilest form of inconsiderate, malicious, hard-hearted behavior there is.
I’ll stop there and climb off my soapbox, because the point of this piece is to highlight that there are, in fact, kind, considerate young people out there. According to the Chronicle article, it seems a couple of teenagers in Marin read Olivia’s story and were appalled to learn about the bullying Olivia has experienced, so they decided to do something about it. The teens--two sisters named Emily and Sarah Buder--started a letter writing campaign and asked young people in the Bay Area to write letters to Olivia. The results have been, quite simply, amazing.
If you’d like to send a letter to Olivia, here’s where you can direct your words of kindness.
Ms. Olivia Gardner
C/o Janet Buder
775 E Blithedale Avenue #106
Mill Valley, CA 94941
As for Guy, about a year after I graduated high school and right before I moved to D.C. the first time, he came into the store a couple of times where I was working. Each time he came in, he’d come through my line. It was the first time I'd seen him since our freshman year at Timpview High School and life hadn't been kind to him. He’d battled depression, alcohol, and cigarettes, but I’d always greet him warmly and we’d talk about what was up at the moment for both of us.
One evening, Guy came in and came through my line. As usual, we exchanged some pleasantries and then, switching gears, he said, “Janet, I owe you an apology. I said many mean things to you when we were kids and I’m really sorry for that. It wasn’t nice and it wasn’t fair to you, especially because you’ve always been very kind to me.” I was stunned, but touched and managed to muster the words to say, “Thank you, Guy. That means a lot to me.”
To Olivia—hang in there. You’re okay and you’re a good person and, in the end, you’ll come out on top! And to Emily and Sarah Buder, good job, gals! May your peers learn a lesson or two from both of you. And wherever you are, Guy, I hope life has been kind to you.