When we started junior high in the fall, Tina was immediately popular. Not only was she friendly, outgoing and funny, she was also exceedingly beautiful–athletic but feminine build, dark hair, flawless olive skin and impossibly long eyelashes. She looked a lot like a young Elizabeth Taylor. That she seemed so completely unaware of her beauty and its effect on others endeared her to me and made her that much more popular. What took her completely by surprise was a group of older, much larger girls whose mission was to make our junior high existence miserable. She couldn’t understand why they hated her so much–she didn’t even know them, we didn’t have any friends in common.
Unlike me, Tina went out of her way to be nice to them. She smiled at them when we passed them in the halls. They responded by calling her names. She even went so far as baking them cookies and bringing them to school. Their response? They accused her of implying they were fat and threw the cookies back at us.
While all the drama played out, Tina kept a stiff upper lip at school, but I remember her breaking down in tears in the privacy of her bedroom. “Why do they hate me so much, Kathy? I’ve never done anything to them. I don’t even know them!” My response to her then was the same response I give now to those who wonder why there are those who hate America:
Nothing you do for them will soften their hearts towards you because they don’t hate what you do, they hate what you are. Furthermore, they see your attempts at kindness and accommodation as weakness, and that perceived weakness only strengthens their resolve to destroy you. (Okay, I probably didn’t say exactly that. I was only 11 or 12 at the time, but that was the gist of it.)
From that day forward, when they confronted us in the halls, instead of ignoring their name calling or running away, we confronted them. When they threw cans or rocks at us, we picked them up and threw them right back.
Tina moved again in the summer after 8th grade. The bullies did not. And while they gave me plenty of dirty looks over the next four years of high school, they never bothered me again.
They never stopped hating us, but once we stood up to their hatred, it lost its power. Once they realized what they thought of us wouldn’t change who we were, the bullies found another outlet for their anger.
Because hate for the sake of hate always seeks a vacuum to fill, and this world is full of opportunities to nourish it.