Over the past month, social media has been abuzz with talk of the Buddy Bench, a designated seat near a school’s recess area where kids can go if they feel they need a friend. When other children see one of their peers sitting on the bench, they can invite that person to play, or engage him/her in conversation.
This concept’s brilliance lies in its simplicity: someone takes action to express loneliness, and others respond to that emotion and reach out to help. It is empowering to honestly proclaim your mental state, and for those that seize the opportunity to extend a hand in friendship, the benefits may be even greater.
When I first heard about the Buddy Bench on Facebook, it struck me that there are days when I could benefit from this as an adult. We all have days when “adulting” is hard to do, and we need a cheerleader to tell us we don’t suck at it as bad as we think. Some days, reading the news about world events requires a friend to make us laugh, to keep us grounded before we float away on a sea of despair. Stress can make us cranky, or an emotional time bomb. Long-term illness can feel like a chain around our necks, pulling down our minds when our bodies are already fighting to stay upright. And parenting, ooooooh, parenting, how you just love to keep us humble.
We do find ways to connect with others. I have certain friends that I can text a venting rant to, and receive a response within minutes that either a) gives the situation perspective, b) makes me laugh out loud, or c) calls me out for my drama. The interaction relives my tension. Knowing that someone else commiserates, or can remind me I’m capable of keeping my act together, can be what I need to stay focused. Just last night I posted to Facebook about my frustrations over Chemo Brain. A friend who is battling brain cancer immediately responded to let me know I’m not alone with that struggle and yes, it sucks. He even made me laugh, and, once I did, my pity-party was over.
Baby #1 was upset a few weeks ago. She said she knows a boy that is the butt of jokes, and who is incessantly teased about his grades. She told me that she isn’t really friends with him and doesn’t know him well, but that whenever she hears someone teasing him, she tells them to stop. “They might stop that time, but they always do it again later,” she told me in exasperation. “I don’t know what to do. Maybe it doesn’t bother him as much as it would bother me, if someone talked to me like that.”
I told her that she wasn’t powerless, that telling an adult she trusts was creating a call to action. I told her that, even if those who were telling him he is a failure and a loser didn’t stop because of her protests, it is a big deal that he heard her defend him. I told her that it is better to reach out to someone than to fall into complacency, because ignoring her conscience is never a good choice. I told her that trusting her instincts is always the right decision.
She came home from school the next day pleased, because after I had reached out via email, the school counselor met with her and gave her a chance to voice the concerns she had for her classmate. We don’t know what action the school will take, but Baby #1 told me she feels comfortable talking to the counselor again if she observes anything that worries her. She reported that speaking up is worth it, because it’s better to err on the side of caution. Most importantly, she learned that she didn’t need to create a scene to make an impact, that helping out people doesn’t require a pat on the back or a medal of honor. Her integrity is healthy and intact, and her actions will make a difference for that boy.
Baby #2 is a sensitive soul. Recently he told me about a recess period at school where he left a soccer game because too many boys were bickering over it. He went to where some of the girls were playing together and asked if he could join their game. They welcomed him into the fold, but after a few minutes, one of them chastised him because he wasn’t following the rules properly. Being the passive-aggressive kid that he is, he walked away from the group and sat down on a bench.
One of his friends followed him, and asked him what was wrong. “She told me I wasn’t doing it right,” he said, “and that I messed up your turn.”
“You didn’t bother me at all,” his friend told him, “and you had just joined our game and didn’t know about that, anyway. Let’s do something else together.”
Ironically, his school community is investigating what it would take to install and support a Buddy Bench. I have a feeling that the student population there will embrace the concept.
We say that it takes a village to raise a child, however I believe it takes a village to be adult, too. We will make mistakes in our interactions, but we need to connect with others, and we need to keep learning and growing. It isn’t like we “grow up” and have all of the answers. Let’s face it…none of us wants to be our village’s idiot.
The real lesson to be learned is how to be a friend to those you may not consider a friend. In this political climate, where compromise, moderation, and mutual respect are dramatically rejected, those of us doing the “adulting” seem far from setting an example for our youth. Our social media posts come across as judgmental instead of inspirational. We should be encouraging communication, listening instead of preaching, so when we make our points they are heard and respected.
I’m already aware of how animosity is trickling down to the next generation, because my kids tell me the sweeping judgments their classmates make. You may say that “kids will be kids,” but you know as well as I do that most kids speak the way they are spoken to at home. My hope is that the Buddy Bench will break down some barriers before they can be built any higher.
We are the sum of our experiences and of our struggles. Our religion/spirituality, ethnicity, preferences, and allegiances—in whatever unique concoction— make us who we are, and do not change this simple fact: all of us need and deserve empathy, and should offer it through our exchanges with others. When we “adults” acknowledge that, we can take a seat at the Buddy Bench, too.