On Anger & Violence in Tiny Bodies

*I need to give a word of caution first on this piece. First of all, I love the kids I work with, and I do believe that there is light in each of them. Second of all, of all the kids I see, this piece is really only representing a handful, though it’s indicative of a larger problem. Third of all, any mention of racism or sexism by the people of the community is meant to be descriptive of some things I’ve seen, not an analysis of all the people here, or even of the general sentiment here. Don’t stereotype, or I will find you – and scold you, then hug you. I almost didn’t share this but it’s heavy on my heart; be good with these words.*

Today, the love, sympathy, and hope I have for my students turned into fear, disgust, and anger. Or maybe those feelings have been there all along, and just now the veneer of hippie-dippie volunteer love has worn off.

In any case, I am empty.

I want to shut it all out: the mindlessness and fear and violence of the world but I am not able to. I’ve come to accept I can’t do it all; I can only do a little and that’s fine. But today, I have just been in awe at how much violence there is in the world. In souls.

Even souls in small, childlike bodies.

I’ve been doing these anti-bullying lessons in the 4th grade classrooms, and most days I feel positive that I’m at least getting some good thoughts out into their consciousness, but today I felt so small. We were talking about what to do when approached by a bully. It was really basic stuff, stuff that I know doesn’t always work and can’t always help them. But I go through the lesson anyways, not sure who really wrote it or evaluated it. And then I hear the chorus: “My dad says if I get punched, to punch right back!” “I’ve always been told to hit back.” “My parents taught me to fight back.” I tried to explain the difference between standing up for yourself or defending yourself and fighting back. The difference between protection and retaliation. Between justice and revenge. And maybe some got it. But they’ll all go home to their parents who likely think what I teach them is psychobabble nonsense for pansies. Go ahead, hit back.

Even in small, growing minds.

That afternoon at afterschool, though, is when everything fell to pieces. This day’s group is already pretty rowdy – a bunch of mostly 9-12 year old boys – and I was already in no mood. But there must’ve been something in air. The group activity was kickball: a fun, easy, outdoors game that could get everyone involved. You’d think we were sending some of them to prison. “This sucks!” “I knew I shouldn’t have come today!” “I’d rather sit inside.” The rule was made that if they argued and whined too much, we’d sit inside in silence. Thankfully, some of the boys stepped up – trying to keep the peace, playing the game with both a competitive and compassionate spirit. But a few boys lost it. If they messed up, or someone on their team messed up, they quit, or ran off in a rage, or yelled insults about the game. I could see in these students’ faces the absolute rage, like they wanted to hit me, cuss me out, spit at me. Pure, genuine anger over a kickball game.

Even in small, clumsy hands.

All I saw were these violent spirits. Angry, entitled boys, who might grow into angry, entitled men, who might one day grow up to be the kind of people who hurt others. I saw not a desire to win, but a desire to dominate. I saw a fear of commitment and cooperation. And I saw the ribs of 10 year old boys not yet grown; caging in all this rage. I watched these few boys reenact traumas of abandonment and mimic the warped masculinity that dominates this community. And truly, I felt a little disgusted. And a little afraid. I already know of one student (who’s since left) who had been accused of groping another child on the bus. I already know that some of my students are racist. (And not Brad-Paisley-accidentally-racist but actual, “white-is-right” racist.) I’m never sure if they believe it, or it’s just what gets laughs, but it’s unnerving. It’s unnerving to realize you don’t like these kids sometimes; that hope seems gone. I want to hold them and whisper the Spirit’s truth: You are enough, you are enough, you are a Beloved of God! But how can they believe it if they their whole experience speaks otherwise?

How much violence and anger can we take?

With all the violence and anger and polarization we see in the news today, all I can think is: what about these boys? Our boys? Our communities?

Small, angry boys, in small, angry bodies demand a big kind of love and a big kind of action. Where is it?