I’ve never been a person to take popular stands, and I suppose that’s why life hasn’t always been easy for me. Still, as the saying goes, nothing worth fighting for is ever easy. Still, this particular post has to do with something that touches on a personal nerve – the prejudice many hold against so-called “nerds” and “dorks.”
Before I begin, here’s a little bit of “big surprise” disclosure: I was a full-out, total “nerd” in high school, and somewhat dorky in college. True historical item – my father gave me a pocket protector my freshman year of high school and I, being the naïve dope, wore it! Yes, the “Darwin Awards” would probably have pegged me for a nominee with that one, but I honestly had no clue about the cultural bias against those who chose to keep their oxford shirts free of ink stains by any means necessary.
The reason I felt a need to go off on this deep end of the thinking pool is I’m seeing more and more people today making excuses for ostracizing children and teens who are not necessarily socially adept. One of the things I learned about in college was “thinking errors,” and this is a doozy. Children who are highly intelligent but, for one reason or another, are socially awkwards, are often targets for being picked on, ostracized or otherwise made to feel inferior. Despite our best efforts to stem bullying and cyber-intimidation, our society seems hellbent on taking away the unique intellectual gifts of children and adolescents who do not toe the lines of societal norms.
Now that said, spare me the ritual arguments of “kids are cruel,” “these kids just don’t get it,” “then need to act ‘normal’” or “they need to toughen up.” When we talk about changing behavior, many parents speak of it being “elitist crap.” This is the sort of reasoning used by social darwinists to justify everything from bullying in school to eugenics. Sorry to sound extreme, but there it is.
Look, life is tough enough without having to rob a child or teenager of the ability to dream something better. Just because we had it rough as kids, or are miserable as adults, does that mean we have to force these kids to actually bend to our will and accept what we had to? Is it possible that maybe, just maybe, we are the ones not getting it? And what the hell is really “normal?” Is getting in the sack with the head cheerleader because you are the toughest or strongest guy in school really normal? Is tossing a less-than-muscular kid in a trash can because it looks “cool” really “normal?” Sounds a little on the sociopathic side, really.
I’m not trying to condemn any parents who have been guilty of teasing their classmates in any way. Honestly, karma seems to tend to that rather adequately. What I’m trying to divine is the reason why we allow it to continue to happen? Are we really afraid to stand up and say “enough” or is it simply that these kids sometimes, due to one reason or another, present the sort of personality which we find charming and oddly engaging and, for that reason, we turn a blind eye to such cruelty? Maybe it’s just my own personal bias speaking here (okay, I KNOW it’s my own personal bias speaking here), but if I had found out my own son behaving cruelly towards other classmates, he and I would have had a very profound discussion on the limits of corporal punishment in the State of Florida. Thankfully, he had way more intelligence than that, and I breathe a sigh of relief every day for the one statement he said to me “There’s no such thing as ‘normal’ when you really think about.”
So very true, and this is so often lost on us.
So I throw this challenge down to parents, and school age children, who may be reading this – think about those classmates you consider, or have considered, “weird,” or “nerds,” or “dorks.” Then again yourself one question – “why do I think this?” Chances are, something about these children reflects a quality in yourself you are not particularly proud of. It could be insecurity, or a bad temper, or a feeling of hopelessness. Then, figure out how to take that quality and turn it from a perceived weakness into a strength. This could be what begins to change our attitudes towards socially awkward children, and it may actually save some lives in the process.