Suggestion for a talk for a secondary school act of worship
Michael, a 17 year old boy, was describing a particular memory. The memory was of moving house at the age of 8 from a town in the north to a town in the south and beginning at a new school. This is what he said:
"At play times I sat on a bench and waited for the time to crawl past. Why is time so cruel? When you want it to pass in a flash it drags its feet but when you wish a moment would last for ever it's gone at such speed. I am sitting on the bench. Suddenly I feel a shove. I can't keep my balance. I fall off the bench. A roar of laughter rises. They are laughing at me. I get to my feet and turn to leave. But I cannot leave.
I am trapped, inside a human cage and humiliation and time hold the key. Please bell, ring! Shout out in your clear voice: play time is over, play time is over........One of the bars of my prison steps forward:
" ' Say book, David. Say book.' "
I sigh." 'Buk,' I say. "
'No, not buk, book...'
The prison bars laugh. Then the laughter dies and the bars rotate around me, faster and faster. They cry out in a mimicking voice: 'buk, buk, buk...' My head starts to spin."
Michael was re-living a memory - a memory of being bullied in the playground as a young child because he spoke differently from the rest of the children in that school. He couldn't say 'book' in the way they said it. He came from a place in the north where they said 'buk', not 'book'. The playground was not a happy place for him - it was a prison. A place where he felt hunted and trapped and humiliated.
Just for a minute try and get inside Michael's skin and imagine how he felt.....And when you have done that think about the moment when you have felt hunted and trapped and humiliated. Maybe you've never told anyone about it because you felt ashamed that it had happened to you. Or perhaps you were afraid about how your parents or other people you told might react. They might say something, or do something, that would humiliate you even more. And as for confiding in teachers...well, that's just asking for trouble! So you keep quiet. Michael was 17 before he shared that experience with anyone else.
You know, I know, there are bullies everywhere. We also know that most of us are capable of being bullies ourselves at certain times. And when we know what it's like to feel hunted, trapped and humiliated, then we know we feel so much more powerful when we are doing the hunting and the trapping and the humiliating. That's why so often those people who have been hurt and abused by bullies are the very ones who do the hurting and abusing to others. Sometimes without even realising that they are doing it.
Here's another example for you. A white police officer is speaking to a black member of the public on a street in an American town. The white police officer says, "What's your name, boy?" The black man replies, "Dr. Andrews. I'm a physician." The officer continues, "What's you first name, boy?" And the black man replies, "Stephen."
Think a minute about what's going on there: the insult of calling a grown man 'boy' and the added insult of quite deliberately using 'boy' again when he knows the black man to be a doctor. We call that kind of bullying 'racism' and, of course, it is about having and wielding power. It may not sound very menacing but if you have been called names that you don't like, you'll know that the memory doesn't go away that quickly.
There will always be people who are bullies. But out there in the school grounds, in the streets and in the classroom, recognise it for what it is. If you are in the receiving end, remember that you are not the piece of trash that those people want to make you into, like the white policeman wanted the black doctor to feel. Recognise the sneers and the put-downs for what they are: someone, some group of people, who need to feel powerful and important. And sadly the only way they can feel good is by hurting you.
Accept the differences between yourself and others. Accept them. Respect them. Don't be conned into thinking that you've got to be the same as other people. We are all individuals: our clothes, our music, our hairstyles, our choice of friends, our interests, the food we eat, the way we think and feel, the way we talk, are different. We're not clones of each other, whatever fashion dictates. Value what makes you different and what makes you the same. And when you notice the unhappy and the lonely, who feel trapped and trashed like Michael, make sure you bear no responsibility for how they feel.

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