“Haha, you are so dumb… Don’t you ever think?… My dog can do better than you.” “I’m just joking!”
During my two years in high school, I have heard these harmful words thrown around hallways and classrooms, only to end with, “I’m joking.” Are they friends? Were they intentionally being mean? Friends do not make each other feel bad. Friends do not bully each other, do not place hurtful labels on others. Regardless if two people are friends or not, no one should be exposed to this type of hatred. To me, the main conflict in these situations is a lack of empathy.
It’s surprising that my peers talk this way. Ever since ninth grade, my school’s curriculum has enforced the message, “Before picking a side, look at the perspective of every side,” in hopes that students will make an informed decision based on all of the perspectives they see. But these sentiments have been rejected.
Students are choosing judgment and creating tension, building a very hurtful and closed-off environment in which teens have nowhere to turn to for comfort, in their most discomforting years. I could no longer be in this community and watch the conflict grow. I decided to found a club to create a safe environment for creating empathy.
ReNew: The Community is a club started in response to all of the hatred I have witnessed in high school. I chose to believe that the second group of people had a lack of empathy, rather than a genuine intention to hurt others, so I directed ReNew towards channeling empathy in the student body.
We developed our own curriculum, including lesson plans on bullying and how bullying affects others. This wasn’t very popular. Through trial-and-error, I found that students resonate most with connecting and spending time with each other. Most of the activities we do in the club now are balanced with activity-based presentations and meetings for students to just bond and have fun with their friends. If there was ever an issue that a club member wanted to discuss, I opened the club to serve as a platform for them to have those discussions in a safe environment, where students support one another.
While some of my student body was not interested in joining ReNew and its purpose, the board of directors and I were able to attract a good amount of students who enjoy the club and its meetings. ReNew: The Community has moved to collaborate with the Equity and Diversity Collaborative and formed connections with other clubs on campus, in hopes of providing the supportive and open environment that every student needs. Recently, we had a student that wanted to spread awareness about being an ally during Black History Month. As a club, we were able to host a supporting environment for this presentation to take place and discuss freely.
If every teen takes a look around and sees that they are not alone, and that there is a community for them in their most vulnerable times, perhaps we can begin to lift each other up rather than tear each other down. We all need a dash of empathy and perspective in our daily lives.
Your words are powerful, so say something kind. We all need to take these words to heart, because each word has its own impact, no matter how gentle or hard-cutting it is meant to be. If we all choose our words and actions with the intention of being kind and considerate of others, the entire world would be a brighter and more welcoming place.
Are you interested in starting your own ReNew: The Community chapter? We have prepared all of the materials needed for starting a ReNew club and we would help you every step of the way. If you are interested in starting a supporting community at your location contact firstname.lastname@example.org