I was such a misfit in junior high that I wondered if I existed. Nobody hit me at school, but rather I was invisible. On a seventh grade ski trip, I was lost for hours and literally nobody noticed. I could have died buried in a snowdrift and I wouldn’t have been missed until my parents noticed me not coming off the bus at the end of the week.
You’re never going to hear from me that the pain of not belonging doesn’t have long-term consequences on a person. Part of why I became a teacher was to seek redemption for what I went through as a kid.
Speaking as a former misfit, the #WalkUp movement’s suggestion that kindness to misfits is an antidote to mass shootings is so wrong, I almost don’t know where to begin to address it. #WalkUp proponents say that rather than #WalkOut to protest our country’s lack of gun control, #WalkUp to a lonely person and say hi. If only people were nicer, perhaps misfits would not kill a bunch of people at once with semi-automatic weaponry.
The facts of mass shootings contradict the myth of the angry misfit pushed to violence because no one was nice to him. The man who massacred concertgoers in Las Vegas lived with a woman who showed concern for him despite suffering his abuse. The Parkland shooter was a notoriously violent, racist misogynist who also threatened and hit his girlfriend. He lived with people who were deeply invested in his well-being, who lived #WalkUp to the point where they welcomed him into their home.
The Columbine shooters bullied other kids on a much larger scale than they themselves were bullied even before their attack on their school. They had friends they planned to kill with bombs, and when those failed, they picked their own friends off with their guns.
The narrative that mass shootings are an effect of people not being nice enough to misfits is a dangerous myth. The deeply disturbed anti-social man who gunned down 27 children and teachers in Newtown had a history of rebuffing overtures of kindness when he was a student. He had a devoted and loving mother who showed him kindness every day. He murdered her first.
I am all for making extra efforts to be inclusive and welcoming. I can’t forget how it felt to be invisible. It hurts not to matter.
But who do we expect is going to do the emotional work of #WalkUp with anti-social men and boys? If my daughters came home talking about a boy who spewed racism and threatened women, I would advise them to #RunAway. I’ve also never allowed my children to visit the homes of people who have guns available. Those kids were welcomed to our house, but never the other way around. In the face of the most basic firearms statistics, keeping my daughters out of the company of guns when I could help it was just common sense.
I’m going to tell you something else about the misfit myth. The ramifications of the emotional work of #WalkUp can have toxic fallout aside from gun violence. For example, here are just a few instances of when my offers of kindness to misfit boys and men went wrong: Twice it happened when I was a teen that outcast boys I was nice to in class in turn began to relentlessly stalk me. Another time a self-professed misfit boy I was friends with became so angry when I didn’t return his romantic interest that he ended our friendship and turned most of our other friends against me. My social life in that school never recovered.
As an adult woman, a male acquaintance I agreed to friend on social media turned nasty when I rebuffed his increasingly flirtatious and bizarre messages by quietly blocking his account. I’m going to leave this story there for now, but I will tell you that I was made to deeply regret my initial overture of kindness towards this person.
#WalkUp is a great idea on its own. Walk up to another human being and say hello. Sure. Be careful, though, especially if you are a woman or a girl. The decision to be kind is not a decision to be stalked or mistreated.
#WalkUp is a bad idea as a reaction to civil disobedience calling for common sense gun control. #WalkUp smacks of victim-blaming. #WalkUp willfully misses the point. Mass shootings aren’t occurring because of the lack of basic human kindness of the masses. They are occurring because of the lack of basic human kindness of the shooters.
(Oh, and because of the breathtaking greed of the gun lobby and the politicians they have bought with breathtaking amounts of money.)
Let’s #WalkUp to the voting booth and walk the reigning purveyors of death culture out of government. That’s a #WalkUp I can get behind. Until then, well.
Duck and cover.