I have officially become the crazy old lady who barks at strangers. I used to be the crazy young woman who yelled at passers-by, but that was when I was a College Student at Happy Hour. I’m surprised the “old lady” version has occurred so early in my life–I figured I’d be 80 before I started to wave my cane at strangers. Today I didn’t have a cane, but I had a stern talking-to with four young men in the library. I may or may not have even wagged a finger.
The young men were middle-school aged boys, probably in the 6th grade. One was clearly the ring leader, one was his deputy, and the other two were clear followers. They were hanging out in the library after school before their parents came home from work, trying so desperately to look cool. They rough-housed and wrestled a bit, joked loudly about name brand sneakers and photos friends were texting. They started sprinkling in gold old-fashioned curse words into their banter as they got louder. Then they asked an Asian librarian to come over, and they joked with her, then joked at her. And after she left, they made the requisite racist jokes about sushi, fried rice, the ching-chong sounds, etc. These were boys of a minority race. These were boys of the 21st century. These were boys of mothers. Mothers whom I am sure would not wholeheartedly approve of any of this behavior.
None of the other library patrons said a word to them. None of the library staff said anything to them. They got louder and bolder and more obnoxious. Of course, they kept testing their limits, and the world in that library at that moment kept condoning their behavior because no one stopped them; and such silence gives them the message that is it acceptable behavior. But it is not.
I debated whether or not to say something. I debated what behaviors I would address if I did. Was it my place to say anything? And I realized yes, it was. If not me, then who? Obviously no one else. I realized we all have an obligation and responsibility to stop poor behavior and promote appropriate behavior. If I teach my children to be mindful of others and to make things right in the world, I had to practice what I preach. I have no right to complain about how disrespectful younger generations are nowadays if I didn’t do anything about it.
So I stood up and walked up to four very bewildered young men who were none too happy to see me. They snarked and copped an attitude and rolled their eyes and talked back. And I calmly pointed out that I’m pretty sure their mothers would be horrified if they witnessed such behaviors–to which they admitted they would. I pointed out that if I made racist jokes about stereotyping their food or culture, they’d be rightly pissed off, to which they agreed. I pointed out their unkind behaviors, and that even if people don’t say anything to them, they know they’re acting untowardly. And they need to begin to make choices that mirror their character and who they want to be, not to just posture and seem cool or to fit in. I acknowledged they’ll likely make fun of me and dismiss me when I walk away, but urged them to think about what kinds of young men they want to be, and act accordingly. I urged them to make the right choices because it’s the right thing to do, not for fear of getting caught. Honestly though, when I say “urged,” I mean lectured.
I know they tore me apart to each other after I left, but I saw the look in their eyes as they softened when I spoke. I know a part of what I said is somewhere in each of them. It’s up to them if they take heed of those words again. But I did my part for this village who raises all our children. And I told my kids what happened when I got home. About how it’s important that if they were there, they felt empowered to say something. No one should denigrate any race or culture or difference. No one should loudly and rudely interrupt public space where children are around, in the attempts of making a statement that he is cool. Kindness and consideration trump coolness, thank you very much.
Was their behavior really a big deal? No, there’s much worse. Were they just being adolescent boys? Yes. But I also want to teach my kids that it’s got to start somewhere, and being a teenager is not a free pass for poor behaviors. I want to teach them we must never be silent. We must never be indifferent. We must not tolerate nor condone negative behaviors–and ignoring them is giving tacit permission. We must be mindful to always take great care of each other. Someone must say something, and we cannot and should not rely on someone else to do it.
You may consider renewing your library books online to avoid the ranting crazy lady. I can sneak up on you like a ninja.