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. Bullying has been in the news quite a bit recently, and my response to “Alex” could just as well apply to most kids who have experienced similar abuse.
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.
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; 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, then 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 about 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 they’re your parents and you need to be open with them. Yet 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 to you — considering I’m a book readin’ nerd myself — so take this all with a grain of salt.
Thanks for reaching out,
***Originally posted August 25, 2013