A letter from a bullied kid

I get a high volume of email on a daily basis. Generally I’ll only post the negative ones on this blog. There’s two reasons for that: 1) They’re usually much more entertaining. 2) What kind of a pretentious loser would I be if I published my own fan mail? This particular email breaks the mold a little bit. I received it a couple of days ago and responded. I’m now (with the permission of the kid who sent it) posting the email and my response, because I think a lot of people might be able to relate to the subject matter. I changed his name and took out a phrase or two in order to protect his anonymity:

Dear Mr. Walsh,

I listen to your show whenever I can and I read your blog daily. Many of the things you write are really meaningful to me. I know you’re probably very busy but I wanted to write to ask you for advice. If you don’t respond to this I will understand. But if you have time I’m hoping you can help me. You seem to have a lot of wisdom and expertise in a lot of areas. A few days ago I heard you talking about the bullying problem in schools, and that’s what this is about.

I’m a sophomore at [High School]. I’ve never been popular or had a lot of friends. It’s not that I don’t want friends. I just don’t like doing what a lot of kids my age like to do. I usually spend my weekends reading and practicing my instruments. My parents worry that I’m a loner and I might end up like some kind of hermit. They’ve been talking to my doctors about maybe putting me on medication. I’m a pretty quiet person. I thought I’d come out of my shell in high school but that hasn’t happened. Now recently things have gotten even worse. I don’t get beat up at school or anything but the other kids like to taunt me and make fun of me a lot… Especially at lunch and gym. I don’t like to complain about being bullied but I get sick of it after a while. I’ve always gotten good grades so I used to like school but now I dread it. I’m not sure why the other kids don’t like me. Maybe there is something wrong with me. You talk about the bullying problem a lot so I thought maybe you could tell me what I should do. Thank you for reading this.

Sincerely,

Alex

Dear Alex,

Three things right off the bat: 1) Call me Matt. 2) I’m not an expert in anything. 3) There is nothing wrong with you.

There is nothing wrong with you.

Just to reiterate: There is nothing wrong with you.

Quite the contrary, Alex. You’re articulate, you write very well, you’re intellectually curious (which is why you enjoy reading), you have artistic talent, and you’re a successful student. Something wrong with you? WRONG? Why? Because a bunch of feebleminded clowns don’t like you? Dude, if those morons get to decide what and who is “wrong” in this world, then you might as well drop out of school and move into a bomb shelter because it’s the end of human civilization.

There’s nothing wrong with you, Alex. And I’m not one to blow smoke up anyone’s rear, so if I thought you were a royal screw up, I’d let you know. I can only go on what you’ve told me about yourself. If you left out the part where you tried to microwave the family cat or something, that might change the complexion of this situation slightly. But if you summarized it accurately, in my unprofessional opinion, you don’t need any freaking medication. Medicine is supposed to treat illness. What’s your illness, exactly? You’re smart, you like to read, you don’t run your mouth constantly, and you don’t get along with the juvenile jackasses at your school. Dude, if that’s a disease I hope it’s contagious. Please go out in public and cough in as many faces as you possibly can. The world needs more people with your “sickness.”

Do you know why so many kids at your school don’t like you? Because you make them uncomfortable. You aren’t going with the program. You aren’t behaving like they think you should. You aren’t the sort of person they think you should be. You have passions, you are intelligent, you think more than you speak, you are thoughtful. Those traits will serve you well in the real world, but in the claustrophobic confines of public school — where mindless collectivism and groupthink reign supreme — they’ll cause you trouble. The only way you can really get the herd to “accept you” is to fall in line and join their stampede. I hope you don’t do that, Alex. You sound like a fascinating and awesome person, I’d hate to see you compromise even one ounce of your individuality for the sake of a bunch of insecure cows.

There aren’t any more bullies in school nowadays than there were 50 years ago. The bullies are simply more effective now because most kids are desperate for acceptance from their peers, in a way and to a degree that borders on psychosis. But not you. You don’t need your existence to be validated by a bunch of confused adolescents. It just sounds like the constant and unrelenting negativity from these jerks has started to wear on you. That’s understandable, man.

But know this: They have no power over you. They’ve got numbers, that’s all. And in a few years you’ll graduate and leave that building forever. You’ll go off and eventually start a career, and get married, and do important things; you’ll make a mark in this world, I guarantee it. Meanwhile, sadly, pitiably, many of the shallow, dull bullies that tormented you will shrink and fade and fail when the lights come on, and the real world appears, and they’re expected to actually function in it. You won’t wish that on them because you’ll be too busy living and succeeding to give a crap what those nobodies you went to school with are doing. Still, the harsh reality of the adult world will seriously kick their asses. Some of them will recover, some won’t. Such is life.

Until then, sure, try to make a few friends if you can find some kids who share your priorities and passions. Don’t worry too much about that. We put a ridiculous premium on “friends” in our society, as if we can measure a man by the number of acquaintances he has accumulated. What you’ll realize when you’re an aging, grizzled, world weary 27 year old like me, is that family is far more important than friends. We are only capable of having a limited number of close, meaningful, intimate human relationships. People who waste their quota on their peers at the expense of their family will regret it one day.

Finally, I know the administrators at your school would probably say that you should report this bullying to the proper authorities. Certainly, if you feel physically threatened then you should. You should also keep talking to your parents about all of this. I hope they don’t search for answers in a pill bottle, but, either way, they’re your parents and you need to be open with them. But I realize that most of the bullying is probably subversive and maybe even unspoken. Much of it isn’t outwardly aggressive or even against the rules. You can’t make it stop by reporting it. So what can you do? Well, exactly what you’ve been doing. Be you in all your glory, my friend. You can’t control how other people react to you, but you can control how much real estate you allow them to occupy in your psyche. They are nothing and their opinions are meaningless. Trust me, nobody out here in Realville cares what they think.

You’re a badass as far as I’m concerned. I’m not sure how much that really means, considering I’m a book readin’ nerd myself, so take this all with a grain of salt.

Thanks for reaching out,

Matt

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147 Responses to A letter from a bullied kid

  1. Brianna says:

    It’s OK Alex. I was a loner who devoured books and got teased a lot in school too. My parents never considered medication (and I wouldn’t have taken it if they had), but I got lots and lots of lectures on how I needed to make friends and be more like other people if I ever wanted to succeed in life. But you shouldn’t change yourself just to be liked; if you do, you might get friends, but they won’t be friends who actually like *you*, so there won’t be any point.

    Once you’re out of high school, you’ll have more choice about who you can associate with, and you’ll be able to find the people who like you as you are. And in the real world, the qualities you have will serve you much better than the qualities your peers are developing. In high school I was the geeky loner. Now I’m a rocket scientist and a black belt. In fact, some of my friends are my friends precisely *because* they think it’s awesome that I’m a rocket scientist and a black belt. So let the morons laugh while they can.

  2. Quite honestly, the only reason I’m not a loner is that I’m homeschooled and highly selective of my friends. Therefore, I have a very small number of good friends, and I don’t hang out with a large number of people who I either don’t really care about, or who don’t care about me. The few friends that I do have are honorable, godly people that I would like to be more like. Ironically, this doesn’t include a lot of people my age. Most of my friends are older. If that makes me weird, then I can deal with that. I’ll just go have an intelligent conversation with my friends about how weird we are.

  3. Lauren says:

    Well said, Matt.

    Alex, I think I was in fourth grade when I looked around at all the kids who’d bullied, teased, and tormented me, and I decided I didn’t want to be like that. I remade myself. The continuing torment didn’t hurt any less, but I learned to be satisfied with what I was rather than what they expected me to be. What it amounts to is that you’re different, and the “herd” (thanks, Matt) won’t accept difference.

    I can say from experience that you’ll grow up, grow past them, and become something that none of them could conceive of. Not in spite of your difference, but because of it. Embrace what makes you different, because the alternative is becoming what they are.

  4. Nicole says:

    Alex,
    When you are young it can be hard to imagine the future. “Here and now” demands your attention so often that it makes it hard to focus on the obscure future. But trust that your time in high school will be very short when you look back years from now. If you focus now on becoming the person you want to be, rather than the person the masses expect you to be, your life will be much more fulfilling and you will be so much happier. We are who we choose to be. Focus on becoming a good person. Think on good things, and DO good things, and you will find joy.

  5. Krista says:

    Alex, one more thing- In 10 years, they will also want you to accept them, instead of the other way around. Once you say enough, they will flock to you and try to put water under the bridge as fast as possible. Funny how it works. Best thing I ever heard: “Its 4 years of b.s. that dictates only how patient you become with the sheep.” And thats it.
    Good Luck, kid.

  6. Jilleana Smith says:

    Alex sounds pretty cool…

  7. MS says:

    Well said, to both Matt and the letter writer. I know this is really late but I wanted to comment anyway. I felt the same in high school. High school seriously sucked, I was always a loner too, I did that thing they call “studying” to get good grades. Always wondered why I didn’t fit in, must be something wrong with me since I preferred reading and doing other productive and meaningful things compared to attempting to fit in and be popular. Then I graduated high school, everyone went separate ways and I realized that high school was only a few years of my life out of (hopefully) a lot more of my life, all in all, a small percentage. Now I look back, and even though it sucked, I’m still glad I did what I wanted to do, and didn’t just follow the crowd. I guess what I’m trying to say is, there’s more to life than high school so rock on, do what you want and don’t let em get you down when it will get better.

  8. Clanofsix says:

    This is my 13 year old daughter. She gets lectures from her “friends” on how one day she’ll understand how important texting, Facebook, boyfriends and makeup are. Meanwhile, she reads everything, draws beautifully, is active in our church, politically aware, doesn’t want to date yet, avoids social media and works hard in school. Her father and I look around at her friends and see that she’s miles ahead of all of them. She’s amazing, unusual and we encourage her to be herself, stick to her principles and trust that she will find her “people” after graduation when the world will open up to her and offer so many more choices than the bubble of high school. Hang in there, kid. Listen to all of us “old folks” who have been through it. Times may change, but human nature doesn’t. These same types of kids exist is every era and this time in high school that seems so crucial now is just a blip in a life that you will build and thrive in after graduation.

  9. Writing a Letter to bullies is important. It is actually a fabulous way to deal with what’s going on. If you can’t say the words directly to them, writing a letter helps to vent.

    Bullying has become an epidemic and it needs to stop.

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