Apparently the story of Mitt Romney’s highschool “hijinks” has now moved on from the news cycle, and that’s a relief. But I’m still mulling it over. I find it on my mind and heart as I pray, garden, or wash the dishes.
I suspect that this didn’t change any votes: Those who were for Mitt now add this to their list of misgivings, or they don’t care. Those who were for Obama now feel some added justification. I’m not mulling it over as a voter. I’m still processing it as a mother, as a minister, and as a human being.
I don’t know about other ministers, but I have received a couple of calls from congregants who have found that this stirred up memories for them that they would just as soon forget. Issues of the lack of fairness—if this were a movie, the bully character would be shunned and left behind, not running for president. The hero would have been the guy with the hair, going on to vindicate himself. He is now dead with no story to tell.
The unhappy memories stirred for congregants are not just times when they were bullied, when they felt unsafe because of someone else. I have also heard from people who either participated in bullying or didn’t stop others who turned on a vulnerable person. “Like Lord of the Flies,” one of Mitt’s classmates apparently said. These folks are sometimes suffering more than the bullies. Suddenly, years later, they are ashamed of who they were and what they did, and don’t know what to do about it.
Those of us who minister to, or parent, or care about teenagers know that in our communities we are speaking to potential or real bullies side by side with their intended or actual victims. We know bullying is going on now, every day, in blatant or subtle ways. We know that as much as all the kids nod and tell us the party line we want to hear, they are often protecting each other and us from the whole story. Mitt’s victim apparently never brought this up at home. We hear over and over after bully-induced suicides, “He/ she never mentioned it,” or “It didn’t sound so serious.”
Those of us who love at risk kids know how quickly “hijinks” can turn serious, taking lives as quickly as car accidents or heart attacks.
I guess all of that is why I am still mulling over Mitt’s “pranks.” I wish to see a huge, united, adult community saying with one voice that some things are bigger than political ideology or party affiliation: that respect for others is the center to a good shared life. It would start with Mitt himself, dropping the act of “If I hurt someone…” and acknowledging that he did, badly—both the victim and the ‘friends’ who joined his behavior. It would move out to the rest of the adult community, talking honestly about people we have hurt, making amends to them when we could and making commitments to ourselves not to let it happen on our watch again.
Then maybe our kids could be safe to talk to us honestly about their own situations.