Penn State Athletes Take Action recently completed year #5 in State College Area Middle Schools!
During the final event of the year, I was struck by a very real and honest question asked by a young man at the PFMS closing assembly. After most of his classmates dismissed into the hallways, the young man quietly approached the towering group of athletes. The athletes–boxers, track stars, figure skaters, and water polo players–respectfully turned around and listened to the nervous young man speak to them, as he genuinely asked:
“What would school be like without bullying? What would the world be like without bullying? Doesn’t bullying help to build character and help us stand up for ourselves?…”
Wow. He was processing so many good and important thoughts in this question–
- the realities of a culture of violence
- the reality that many young people DO experience bullying, and as a silver-lining result, CAN learn to persevere, make changes, and build courage
- the reality that as young men, maybe even the boy asking the question, they are taught that the only way to “really” be “courageous” and to “stand up for yourself” is to match violence with violence, ultimately learning “character” and “strength” with the help of power-over displays of physical, intellectual and systemic force
- AND there was one other reality: he was dreaming– dreaming about what it would actually be like if bullying and the behaviors that lead to bullying weren’t so prevalent or REAL.
- And maybe, just maybe, weren’t really needed to build character or strength at all.
This was a tough moment, but so important!
I am so proud of the athletes who stuck in with this student as they ALL processed the underlying norms behind his query. Citing many other ways to build character, and encouraging the young man to keep challenging unhealthy patterns and beliefs, the athletes ultimately helped to empower and embody a different way to redefine character and strength. The athletes learned a great deal from this young man and his question in that moment.
So did I.
So here’s the second question then: What do I think about all of this? What do I believe that PSATA thinks about this question? And what do I believe SCASD schools think? Maybe this:
We do not need violence to build character.
We do not need violence to be courageous…strong…and honorable.
And we do not need violence to teach us how to live together and be a community who thrives.
In our culture and world, we have not yet been willing to name and normalize that the opposite of violence is actually far more courageous and strong. What is the opposite of violence? Healthy relationships.
Healthy relationships, rooted in respect and mutuality; realistically riddled with conflict, difficulty and authenticity; require extreme courage and character; extreme strength and dignity; and extreme perseverance and honor!
Healthy relationships are some of the bravest things we can all be a part of! And not only do healthy relationships build strong individuals, communities and societies, but they also create the possibility for all to thrive.
When we have healthy relationships and instill those values in our children, that’s how amazing things can happen! That’s how healthy patterns can snuff out power imbalances and injustice. That’s how young people, like the young man who bravely asked his question, can continue to change the world as allies. And that’s how character is built–in, with, among, and through communities where healthy relationships are supported and expected.
Thanks to ALL for talking with the young man who posed the question above, and thanks to ALL for supporting the prevention efforts of Penn State Athletes in Action!!! Who knows, maybe that young man can be a part of creating and living a different way of character and strength–one where violence does not have the final say!