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Posts Tagged ‘tolerance’

I have to admit that my absence from my own blog is from nothing less than the mind-blowing discovery of Facebook. It has been over six months of searching and liking and commenting and responding to friend requests from people I haven’t seen in over 20 years. (And don’t get me started on the disgusting amount of time I’ve spent on Farmville.) People from high school are coming out of the woodwork;  they never spoke to me in school, yet here they are on my notifications list, even though my maiden name was never listed. It’s amazing – on so many levels.

It was hard for me to sign up for Facebook. I knew that, even if I didn’t want to be found, my associations would give me away. I have reinvented myself a few times since I was a kid – and by that, I mean I had to adapt to life-changing circumstances more than once. Now, I don’t even remember who I was as a child. I remember some things that happened, but I don’t remember me. In a way, I’m probably unrecognizable to some people from my past as well. Would that be a good thing – as in “fresh start” – or would people regret friending me because I’m not who they expected me to be?

I grew up in a small town and went to a school that consisted of two buildings which held classrooms for all thirteen grades. On the other side of the ball field was a corn field that went on for miles. Life in a rural farming community was peaceful enough. I would eventually learn what the rest of the country was like, but then I knew no different than small town life.

One man from that small town spoke up recently on Facebook. I knew of him, but I had never met him because he was older than I was. But what he posted last week really made me stop and think. He said, “Can you believe that I remember the name of everyone who made fun of me in high school?” Okay, now I remembered him – he has cerebral palsy, but he was simply known as the guy who walked and talked differently. For many of us, it was our first exposure to physical disability. I think most of us were kind or wondered what was wrong with legitimate concern, but I have no doubt that he was laughed at by kids who thought “different” was funny.

What really struck me, though, was the response to his post. All who responded were schoolmates. Some were sympathetic. Some went into the old “well, kids can be mean sometimes,” as if they wanted to be kind, but didn’t quite know what to say. One in particular (now a teacher himself) expounded on the need to move on from being hurt by such things. But the burn came when some chose only to emphasize the fact that “we’re all grown up now.” In my mind, it was like they were saying that his memories shouldn’t  matter, or they were denying him the right to remember how awful those times were for him. Tough shit. Life’s rough all over. Get over it.

I can remember feeling awful, too. I saw what those kids did. I was on the receiving end of it myself a few times. Over the years, I figured out that it wasn’t necessarily that they were evil, but that they were subconsciously taught to be uncomfortable with people who were different. Okay, I’m putting that way too nicely. But that’s what it boils down to. It may not be just in small towns, but in this one, people who were different got strange looks. They got laughed at. They were excluded from the community in one way or another, just because they walked or talked or acted differently. The peaceful life in a small town turned out to be undisturbed homogeneity.

Sure, we’re all grown up now. But some of us left school feeling extremely relieved that we weren’t going to be punished for being different anymore, some of us left school feeling completely worthless, and some of us bottled up the anger until we snapped. Those feelings don’t just magically dissolve because we’re outside the double doors of the school or because we’ve gotten older.

Personally, I’m glad he started that conversation. At some point, with all the indiscriminate Facebook friending going on, the air had to start clearing among the students who went to that small school. The whole thing has actually been sort of cathartic – maybe now I can just be myself instead of worrying about who is still ignorant and who isn’t. I still don’t have to go to the reunion if I don’t want to.

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