Apropos of Something

Thinking back to riding the bus in… Tyler? Longview? Shreveport? That time in life is a blur. But I remember this one kid on the bus, older than me, who was under constant attack from a group of four or five bullies.

He suffered their abuse in silence. Once, it was storming outside. The bullies took up a seat in front of him and opened the window wide. Rain poured in, pelting this kid. He held up his jacket as a shield and didn’t say a thing.

No one else said a thing. Not the bus driver, no one. In my defense, I was a couple three years younger than the bullies and their target. A pipsqueak.

Some of the other kids laughed, some stayed quiet and averted their eyes. The most I could do was sit by the kid. Ask him about the NASA sticker on his notebook.

“Why are people piling on this person?”

Rather than join in, I want to find out more about the person being dog piled. What am I missing? And I want to know for myself, not just trust the so-called “wisdom” of the crowd.

“Ask not for whom the bell tolls,” and all that.

I’m not perfect, and I’ve definitely been a bully from time to time, but for the most part, my instinct is to slow down and learn what I can about the dog piled. Maybe it’s because I’ve been bullied, too. I don’t know.

What I do know is the dopamine hit from piling on isn’t worth the IQ drop from turning off your curiosity, or blunting your capacity for empathy by acting cruel.

A high school friend once shared an essay with me about kindness. It moved her and it’s really stuck with me. (That might have been the point, come to think of it. I could be a real prick back then. She might have been trying to instruct me—out of kindness, of course.)

Basically, there’s a difference between being “nice” and being “kind.” Being “nice” is empty and obsequious. It’s compromising your integrity to make other people comfortable. Being kind doesn’t mean sacrificing your integrity; it means don’t be a dick about it.

“Nice” is shallow and pretentious. “Kind” is engaging on a human level.

It’s a simple thing.

“Do you want to work at NASA someday?”

“I don’t know. Maybe. I just like the logo I guess.”

I wonder where that kid is now.

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