By Christine Clinton
When I was growing up, I didn’t at first realize I was different in any way. I had countless doctor appointments, and countless surgical procedures; but I always thought that was the norm. I had to go to a special school the first five years of my life, because the school my sister was attending, decided they could not accept me as a student. The principal of the school that my sister was attending told my parents that, “if I accepted Christine into this school, I would have to accept other children like her.” I will admit, those words still sting to this day.
So, because of that principal’s decision, I went to a special school. My parents were persistent, though. When I was going into the fifth grade, they were able to fight to get me out of the special school, and mainstreamed into my sister’s school.
I was elated, because I felt like I was going to have a sense of normalcy. I thought that being around other children who didn’t have the same adversities and limitations that I did would help broaden my horizons, and eventually, add to my maturity and growth. Being in the fifth grade at my sister’s school was absolutely wonderful. Everyone absolutely loved me – from the other students in the class, to the teacher. I felt unconditionally accepted and loved. Nothing felt like it was fake or strained; it was just beautiful.
Unfortunately, due to not being properly taught in the special school, I had to be put back into the fourth grade to learn some things I’d missed along the way. The last day of my time in the fifth grade was a very tearful one, and I still remember to this day. I hated leaving the caring, accepting, compassionate class that was so full of gentleness, kindness, and unconditional love. While I don’t remember the names of every single person in that fifth-grade class, I will forever carry the memory of that special group very deep in my heart.
Going back into the fourth grade was starkly different than being in the fifth grade. The respect and dignity I experienced in the fifth grade evaporated instantly. As soon as I entered the fourth-grade room, I was bullied. One girl’s unwillingness to accept the way I looked on the outside, led her to tell everyone else in the class to avoid me. I only had two friends in the fourth-grade class: my best friend whom I have known for almost 34 ½ years, and my sister.
I was called every name under the sun; most I don’t want to repeat, but I urge all of you to never use the word “retard.” It is like a weapon that still cuts me when I hear it.
Those days at school were horrible and hurtful. No one should ever have to be subjected to that kind of cruelty or unkindness, no matter how they look. The bullying, unfortunately, didn’t stop once ignited. It seemed that nothing could overcome the raging fire that one girl started. Thus, the bullying continued all the way into the eighth grade.
Sadly, I was hopeful (or maybe foolish) to think that things would get better when I went into high school, but no; things were the same… if not worse. It seemed I could not escape the stigma she had put on me – a stigma that up until that point, I had not felt on myself.
It wasn’t until my college years, when a very kind security guard told a bully who I encountered in college to “leave me alone.” He intervened and announced “I was under his protection.”
My plea to you reading this, is to understand that one unaccepting person can create a trend that long outlasts her effort. It was not until an “upstander” – the security guard – intervened, that things changed. You see, you have the power to start a negative or positive trend. Who do you want to be? The fourth-grade bully? Or the security guard hero?
Even as an adult, there are instances where I have been bullied. This time though, the bullying isn’t just because of how I look. It also encompasses my emotions, opinions, and feelings on different things.
We all have our own emotions and feelings, and differences of opinion. These differences are absolutely healthy! It is natural to have different viewpoints.
What is never okay, is to make others feel like only someone else’s viewpoints matter, and how they feel doesn’t count. That is simply not right. We all deserve grace, and the opportunity to express how we feel, as long as it isn’t in a cruel, derogatory, or unkind way.
No one ever deserves to be bullied. How truly boring our world would be if we were all the same, if we all acted the same, looked the same, and had the same ideals and viewpoints? We are all different, and we all deserve the very same dignity and respect no matter how we look.
My wish is that no one is ever bullied. I wish we could all look past the exterior shell, and see the heart and soul of a person. I wish we all had the ability to accept one another as we are, instead of what society wants us to be. If we could all just stop categorizing one another, and putting labels on people, what a wonderful world it would truly be.
In closing, I would like to challenge you, Reader, to combat bullying. Combat the hostility that people with craniofacial and physical differences have to face every single day of their lives. If you are with someone, and they are being bullied, stand up for them. Intervene and speak up! Let them know that they are never alone in how they are being treated.
Help them by talking to another trusted family member, or friend, about the bullying incident. Never let the person being bullied be made to feel so alone. Instead of spreading unacceptance, and unkindness, of people who look different, let us instead spread unconditional acceptance and love for all. I promise you, the wonderful feeling you get when you know you have given someone a chance to be your friend is absolutely amazing. It is truly rewarding for a person who is different to know they will always be unconditionally accepted and loved no matter what. You can change the world, if you take on this challenge!