Ronnie Polaneczky: 'You just shouldn't be mean to people'

Whitney Kropp
Whitney Kropp
Posted: October 12, 2012

ONE OF MY proudest motherhood moments occurred when my kid was in third grade.

A shy student was being targeted in the cafeteria by kids who'd sneaked food out of his lunch bag, spat on it, returned it to his bag and then laughed as he ate it.

My daughter told them to knock it off. When they wouldn't stop, she said she'd tell everyone what they were doing and nobody would like them any more.

The kids stopped. Their desire to isolate the weak was replaced by their fear of being isolated themselves. Not that my daughter was that articulate in a subsequent conversation about the incident.

"You just shouldn't be mean to people," she said simply.

I couldn't stop hugging her.

I've been thinking a lot about that lesson these days, as a handful of bullying incidents have gone viral. So have the reactions of those who've rallied to soothe the pain wrought by the antagonists.

The lesson in all of them is that bullying is miserable, but good behavior is more contagious.

And, oh, woe to the bullies whose bad behavior gets exposed. There's no greater shame than being caught in the act of being gratuitously cruel. And there's no greater vindication for the bullied than being embraced by the masses.

Just ask Jennifer Livingston, an overweight news anchor at WKBT-TV in La Crosse, Wis., who was accused by a viewer of being a bad role model because of her size.

Livingston responded, on camera, with an eloquent speech about bullying that was so powerful, it rallied viewers and garnered 9.7 million hits on YouTube ( http://ph.ly/tvanchor).

If you've not seen the video, it's worth a look - as is subsequent footage of Kenneth Krause, the man who harassed her. Krause, surprised by a cameraman, looks like a whipped dog as he feebly defends being so casually mean ( http://ph.ly/krause).

Livingston used her platform to thank supporters and to tell children who endure bullying that "the cruel words of one are nothing compared to the shouts of many."

Whitney Kropp learned that firsthand when she was voted homecoming queen at her high school in Ogemaw Heights, Mich. The honor thrilled and surprised the shy and meek Kropp, until she learned it was a prank meant to humiliate her.

Kropp was so crushed, she considered suicide, she said. But then decent kids created a pro-Whitney Facebook page in her defense, which nabbed more than 4,000 "likes." And business owners ponied up cash for Kropp's dinner, gown, shoes, tiara and a snappy new hairdo for her big night.

At homecoming last week, she arrived on the football field to a standing ovation, the thunderous applause drowning out any echoes of the nasty snickers that sought to bring her down in the first place.

Overwhelmed by the love, Kropp had advice for other victims of bullying.

"I would tell them to be brave," she said. "Look where it got me."

Here in Philly, of course, we know where Samantha Pawlucy's bravery got her. The 16-year-old sophomore was harassed by her own geometry teacher at Charles Carroll High School on Sept. 28 for wearing a Romney/Ryan T-shirt and felt humiliated by the jeers that ensued from some students and staff.

This week, a bevy of supporters - including war vets appalled at the quashing of Pawlucy's First Amendment rights - protectively surrounded the teen as she attempted to resume normal life at Carroll.

Pawlucy dabbed at tears with her sleeve as the crowd sang "The Star Spangled Banner" and seemed overwhelmed that so many strangers had her back.

"I heard people would be out here," she said, but she didn't "expect all this."

Alas, all that love couldn't smooth Pawlucy's return to Carroll. She will transfer to another school, her parents said Wednesday. So this saga is still unfolding.

However it ends, I hope the biggest lesson Pawlucy takes from her tough week is that most people don't bully, and, given the chance, will hustle to the aid of those who are bullied.

That's not a myth, either, says sociologist Rachel Simmons, who researches bullying and is author of Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls.

"The latest research shows that most children do not bully," says Simmons. "When schools communicate that message, it actually changes the behavior of kids who might bully. That's when the social pressure to be like everyone else works in a good way. They don't want to be left out."

And, as any third-grader knows, you just shouldn't be mean to people.


Contact Ronnie Polaneczky at polaner@phillynews.com or 215-854-2217. Follow her on Twitter @RonniePhilly. Read her blog at philly.com/ronnieblog, or for recent columns go to philly.com/Ronnie.

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|