By June Lombardi
The snow has melted from the late October storm, and I sit here as the beautiful sun shines through my window. I have been asked to be a Visioning column writer for the month of December. A timely request indeed, as there are many subjects on my mind. As we entered the holiday season I gave thought to writing something that would acknowledge the difficulties many people are facing during these challenging times. I wanted to be able to find the words to bring hope to all. I wrote and rewrote, but it just didn’t seem that I could pull together what my heart would like to say in the allotted space.
Then last week, my focus became clear. I attended a lecture by Werner Reich, a Holocaust survivor. He travels and speaks about his experiences. There was no need for a podium on which to place his notes, for his journey is forever embedded in his mind.
Reich spoke factually, passionately and without a tone of hatred in his voice. His topic was bullying, a topic that has been popping up not only nationally but locally, with regard to our own schools. School districts are writing policies and enforcing them. Well-known authors are doing local presentations on this subject for educators, parents and students. Meeting and besting the challenge of bullying can help transform our way of being with each other.
Certainly we’ve all known a bully at some point in our life. I don’t know for sure whether I ever realized to what degree a bully could cause harm. I also know that there were some mean things I have witnessed that I never thought to label as bullying. They were just simply mean.
As Reich spoke, he reminded the audience that no one was safe during the Holocaust. Regardless of your color, religion, sexual orientation, age, disability, level of education or nationality you were at risk. He spoke about those who inflicted harm on innocent people. As each photograph in his Powerpoint presentation was discussed, he would often say, “And the good people did nothing.”
We see a great deal of this on a regular basis. Good people turning the other way when a crime is being committed. Good people turning away when a starving or injured animal crosses their path. Good people turning away when someone has a medical emergency; the list goes on. I believe that good people may not realize that they have the power to make a difference, or they are paralyzed by fears, whether rational or not.
In the cast of characters we have the bully himself, his henchmen and an array of bystanders. The bully does his share of the emotional and physical infliction of hurt, and encourages his henchmen to also engage in his dirty deeds. The henchmen oblige because they have a need to be accepted by the person whom they feel has a strange power over them.
Then we have the bystanders. Some cheer as though they are at a sporting event. Others may be uncomfortable with the situation and react in a variety of ways, but do nothing to stop the bullies. It takes one person to say “stop.” One person having the courage to do the right thing and say this simple little four-letter word is contagious. There is strength in numbers, and we should never compromise our integrity. Each and every one of us has the power to change the course of an event that may have permanent and damaging consequences.
My wish for this holiday season is that each of us takes that step out of our comfort zones instead of standing by. We are all worth it.
[June Havas-Lombardi is an educator living in the Town of Bethel, NY.]