I made a difference today. I know, most people assume I do that everyday given what I do, but honestly, that's not how I feel at all. I mean, I hear it all the time..."you must feel so good knowing you make a difference in people's lives" or "what you do makes such a difference"...but, what people don't realize is, it's still a job - one I love immensely, but it's a job, built around people and their lives and those lives are messy and the people living them are very real and sometimes it's really, really hard. I have many days that leave me wondering if I've made any difference at all, and sometimes, on the especially tough days, I go to bed trusting the process and the program but aching for the lives I couldn't change.
But today...today was one of the good days...today I spent a few precious moments with someone and I knew that what I said mattered, that she felt heard, that I gave her something to believe in...and, most of all, she said she had all but given up HOPE, but that I was giving her that very thing.
Hope. Have you ever really thought about that word and the weight it carries? It's a word I believe strongly in, a very small word that means so much. I look for it in each family I interview - without it they don't stand a chance. I listen for it in their voice, look for it in the depth of their eyes; sometimes it's easy to see, but often I have to dig a little deeper and help them remember what it is they are fighting so hard for. Life is hard - sometimes by our own hand, but sometimes we are hit over and over again with truly unfortunate circumstances. Job loss, broken relationships, abusive situations, the death of loved ones, illness, car accidents, mental illness...all things we see on a daily basis. While one thing is typically manageable, the families we see have most likely encountered several within a short period of time so it's no wonder hope is in short supply by the time they get to us. And I believe it's my job to help them use what hope they have left to start over - whatever that looks like for each of them.
Sometimes I see incredible things. Some days are absolutely amazing. I get to watch people, families, see their lives as something worth fighting for and their resiliency is beyond inspiring. I am humbled by them on a regular basis and feel honored to get to walk with them along their journey for a while. But, it's imperative that they know it's THEM doing the work, it's THEM creating a better life for their children. I can't do any of that for them and I wouldn't want to. But, there is nothing like knowing that something I do or say actually makes a difference if only for one person. And today...today, for one very scared lady, a few reassuring words and a hug did just that.
Here's the thing. I've sat back the past week simply reading and watching, taking in details and opinions, feeling myself grow weary from the sheer weight of the reality we have created for ourselves and, more importantly, for our children. The truth is, I'm sick of all the political correctness we are all forced to live our lives by. A culture of carefulness designed to keep the playing field even, to protect the feelings of all without teaching a realistic example of how life really works .We have created an entire generation of people who truly believe everyone not only gets to win, but deserves to win. Trophies for everyone because it wouldn't be fair otherwise! Fact. Life isn't fair. It just isn't. No matter how you twist it, there are always winners and always losers (yes, I used that word because it's the truth). We are told that it's not polite to call it like we see it. We teach our children that if they stand up for themselves they will end up in as much trouble as the kid who picked the fight. In what world does that make any sense? And then we wonder why they are unable to cope when faced with a genuinely difficult situation. I mean, really?
My opinion about what happened at LMS two weeks ago doesn't matter. I don't have a child there, but I do have a child in our district. One who will be in middle school in a matter of months. What does matter, is that we as parents have the right and responsibility to protect our children. What does matter is that there are multiple sides to every story and I'm not naive enough to believe there isn't a child on the other side of that horrific story whose life has now been forever changed just as much so, if not more than, that of the child he took his anger out on. Yes, I went there. This story has two children involved, not just one. But, we won't hear his side. Hear me out on this. I'm not talking sides here. I'm talking about an absolute mismanagement of a situation - or, in all reality, lots of situations. How many children are bullied each year, each week, each day right here in the schools we are so proud of in our pretty little community? How many go unnoticed, unsupported? How many go home with bruises - both visible and, even more scary and costly long-term, invisible on a regular basis? How many incidents don't get reported, or if they do, get no real solution...because we are all so damn concerned with being politically correct? How many kids act out for attention or are battling things they are unable to express or understand and are never taught how to properly handle themselves so they take out their anger/sadness/depression/whatever on whomever they choose? Where are we going wrong with these kids? I refuse to believe they are just "bad kids". It's just not that simple. I know our schools are over-crowded, our teachers maxed out, with parents too busy, too tired to truly parent their children...but, what can we do differently? Kids are faced with even more ways to torment each other these days - cell phones, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. - all tools used to instantly and permanently humiliate and bully others without any real thought of the long-term effects mostly because they aren't mature enough to rationalize the implications of their actions.
Here's the thing, I am having a hard time accepting that things have changed so much in the 20 years since I got out of school...I mean, did I live in a bubble? Was there no bullying 20 years ago? Oh, wait, there was. Kids got picked on, punches were thrown, nasty words were said...but, teachers and administrators were allowed to actually handle the situations right then and there. And, there wasn't the fear of getting sued by a parent for embarrassing a kid by calling them out when they acted like an asshole because if they were willing to do something that stupid for attention, then it was attention they were going to get. Bullies weren't coddled and enabled. Yes, enabled. I am sickened by the stories I hear that end with "my kid got in trouble for finally standing up for himself/herself because he/she wouldn't take the bullying anymore" - please explain to me how we are truly teaching "zero tolerance" if any situation has to get to that point. If a child feels like he/she has no choice but to defend themselves, yet is faced with knowing they will get in trouble for doing so, how are we teaching them true fairness? Again, please explain how this makes any sense.
I have no real solutions. I can only offer my observation that whatever we've done in the name of civility isn't working. We aren't teaching them to be respectful. I know that's the idea, but it isn't working. I think there will always be bullies - there always have been, but I think that in the course of trying to create an even playing field, we've actually given them even more power and there is nothing fair about that. Perhaps it's time we take a step backwards and learn to call a spade a spade rather than sugar-coat things. Bullying doesn't stop when we get out of school. But, if we don't teach our children how to handle those people and situations - and, in turn, if the bullies don't learn that society won't put up with their behavior - how will they know how to react when faced with the grown-up versions of those people and situations? Zero tolerance doesn't exist in the real world. But, grown-up assholes do. And I can promise you, if someone ever tried to put their hands on me or speak disrespectfully to me, I wouldn't hesitate to put them in their place. Yes, all 4'10" of me. We, as adults, do not tolerate mean or disrespectful behavior...why on earth should we expect our children to? Isn't it our job to protect them above all else and then teach them how to be respectful adults? We are failing our children - those on both sides of the coin. It's time we face the reality we're creating and make changes. Parent. Teach. Lead. If we don't, someone else will.