When I was a little girl, before we ended up homeschooling on the Planet Charismatic, I went to the local Catholic elementary school. I wasn’t popular, to say the least. Besides being unattractive I was shy, anxious, bookish and introverted.
The other students reacted predictably to this. I got bullied and humiliated by most of the boys, snubbed and excluded by most of the girls. Now and then I got physically attacked, and I was verbally mocked daily. Teachers were worse than useless because they always punished both parties in a fight and never wanted to hear who started it, meaning I got into trouble if I stood up for myself, so I stopped doing it. I spent quite a bit of my time hiding in the girls’ room, pretending the door to a locked supply closet was a portal to Narnia.
Bullying and ostracism are not normal rites of passage that neurotic, introverted children should have to suffer. They are abuse, and they need to be responded to as if they’re abuse. The effect they can have on a child is devastating.
But do you know how many of my classmates I’ve ever shot to death?
I thought about hurting myself from time to time. But I didn’t kill anyone.
Now that I’m grown up, I’m still neurotic, bookish and introverted, still ripe prey for bullies. The bullies in this world do not stop existing as they get older; they just turn into grown-up bullies and seek grown-up victims. But I’ve got a ragtag collection of friends. Through the magic of the internet I have a very good friends, most of whom are introverted, neurotic and always falling prey to bullies. Their experiences in school were as bad as mine or worse. And do you know how many people my friends and I have shot to death?
Being a victim of bullying, or a lonely child with no friends, doesn’t cause school shootings.
There are two factors that contribute to mass shootings: the first is a person who behaves violently toward others, and the second is that person having access to guns. Both factors are necessary for a mass shooting to occur. If we were all perfectly peaceful at all times, the ground could be littered with loaded rifles and we’d carefully step around them. No one would be shot. If a violent person had no access whatsoever to guns, he could never shoot anyone. He may well attack in another way, and we as a society would have to figure out how to deal with that, but we wouldn’t have to deal with that person shooting somebody. The fact is that we live in a culture that produces violent people: people who want to hurt others and don’t have the normal inhibitions about doing so. We also live in a culture with way too much access to firearms with which to hurt people. Neither of those factors are going to be directly changed by students being kinder to ostracized or bullied children.
And that’s why I’m completely confused by the “walk up not out” campaign.
Apparently it all started when a middle school teacher in Virginia put up a poster telling her students that “instead of walking out” to protest school shootings and gun violence, her students ought to walk UP to lonely children and offer to sit with them at lunch or be their partner on a school project.
This suggestion did the rounds on the internet, with many people encouraging students to walk up to bullied or lonely classmates instead of participating in walkouts. It was sometimes implied and sometimes flat out stated that that this would prevent gun violence by stopping the children from turning into killers.
In general, walking up to people and making friends with them is good. I wish more people had done it for me when I was a miserable schoolgirl hiding in bathrooms, and I’m grateful to the children who did. We ought to walk up to lonely people and befriend them; we ought to walk up to bullies and protect their victims as well. This would be great for a lot of reasons– but it’s not going to prevent gun violence. The problem of lonely, bullied children is an entirely different one.
Saying “walk up not out” to prevent gun violence is victim-blaming because it implies that students get shot when they’re not nice enough to social outcasts. No one deserves to be shot– not even schoolyard bullies. Worse, “walk up not out” also further stigmatizes lonely, eccentric and bullied children by making it seem as if being lonely, eccentric and bullied turns people into murderers. People already think that far too often. Children who are unusual and don’t fit in get blamed for everything that happens to them; we don’t also need to get blamed for violence. We’re victims of violence. Violent people attack us.
Most relevant, though, “Walk Up Not Out” is beside the point. It won’t stop school shootings. Preventing violent people from having guns will.
That’s not as catchy as “Walk Up Not Out,” but it’s true anyway.
(image via Pixabay)