What Happens to Someone Who is Different

by Chris Marchioni, MD, Executive Director, Healthy Learning Paths

Why would anyone want to talk about their failures especially in front of a group of strangers?  One by one, an inspirational group of elite runners stood before students in a middle school gym to share stories of success and failure.

These individuals had the courage to share their mistakes, disappointments, and perseverance to overcome their shortcomings.  One story in particular stood out in my mind and touched my heart.  A soft spoken individual named Brent had a long list of accomplishments in his sport and in his life.  He set school records, was a 2012 Olympic Trials Finalist, and even owns his own business.  However, it was not these accomplishments that he emphasized.

At a very young age, Brent suffered severe burns over his body.  In fact, he was burned so badly that doctors were uncertain if he would be able to walk again.  Treatment of the burns required multiple skin grafts during elementary and middle school years.  The burns and the grafts left him with visible scars.  He looked different than most students and he even missed school at times.

What happens to someone who is different?  The eighth graders in the gym were not surprised that the student is picked on and bullied by others.  When someone asked Brent about what it felt like to be bullied, he shared his experience.  “You see, we all have choices to make.  We can choose something healthy or unhealthy.  Students who choose bullying make an unhealthy choice to deal with the bad feelings they have about themselves.  Sometimes people think that if they bully someone else, it will make them feel better about themselves.  It was too bad that they could not find something that was a healthy choice.  I don’t hold it against them for not knowing.”

Wow!  What a way to sum up bullying.  Individuals who make unhealthy choices to overcome bad feelings about themselves.  Think about this for a moment.  What if we taught all students healthy skills to overcome bad feelings about themselves.  Giving students time to practice these skills, at home and school with adult mentoring allows students to experience the power of these skills.  In other words, we give students the chance to make a healthy choice that leads to mental fitness.  While we are teaching these skills to students, adults benefit from the practice too.

At one time or another, each of us is the one that is different.  So let’s practice healthy choices to avoid the desperation of bullying.  Brent advised students to find the thing that they enjoy and use it to their advantage.  Use it to build yourself up and to help others.  For Brent, running is his passion and it is a passion that he never imagined when undergoing his painful skin grafts.

“Running may not be your passion, but find something that is right for you.  Find your passion,” suggested Brent.  Sometimes we are so distracted with all the noise around us that it is hard to be quiet enough to realize our passion.  We have a choice every day.  Let’s help one another find our passion and use this passion to spread the power of health.  When we do this, we may be ready to embrace the power of being different!