I think it’s important that these days school students know it’s OK to be visible. I suppose it’s always been OK, but as recent initiatives in schools and numerous feel-good videos on YouTube will tell you, standing up to the bullies by standing with the underdog is a powerful and effective strategy and the best way to achieve this is to make the little guy visible.
This is more difficult if you’re a young person travelling through a city centre to commute to school. On the one hand, it’s safer in a city not to stand out too much for fear of attracting attention. On the other, it’s possible to look so small and vulnerable that you automatically become a target.
There are groups of young people en route to school every morning in the city centre of Birmingham whose behaviour is typically adolescent. Safe (in their own minds) because they are in a group, they are loud, social and energetic. There’s nothing I find too worrying about this, although it’s quite easy for a gaggle of teens to spot a lone target, whether they be different enough to stick out or trying to be invisible but not quite succeeding. That’s much less acceptable, and they can be quite ruthless.
What really irritates me is the group of young lads who were spitting wads of paper through straws this morning, four or five of them gathered by Moor Street Station as I walked past, bullying and mocking and carrying on. Typical laddish behaviour from kids messing around in town, trying to make someone else feel small and unloved and unwanted and less than human.
The target of their casual aggression was Danny. He’s homeless, sat on the street wrapped in a sleeping bag and begging for money.
To make matters worse, all it took to move the bullies on was for me to stop and speak to Danny, for him to tell me he was being hassled, and for me to turn towards the kids and frown at them. They backed off as soon as someone took the time to give Danny a moment’s support. I didn’t even need to speak.
It’s a real shame that these kids know they’re doing something unacceptable but apparently feel no guilt. It’s also fairly poor showing that with a look I can clear them off. I’m certain it could have gone very differently. I was half expecting to get some flak myself, but they just sloped off. Apparently it’s not sporting if the invisible guy is visible to a “grown up”.
I bought the guy a coffee. I don’t give money in cash to folks who are begging, but a warm drink is rarely refused, and he looked like he needed a break.
I also noticed the nice religious people giving away leaflets outside Moor Street Station were quietly inactive through all of this. I have no quarrel with the Jehovah’s Witnesses as an organisation, but their witness this particular morning appears to have been a bit slim on showing love to the downtrodden and defending those in need. Just saying. I’m hardly a model Christian but I do understand this – the world is full of people who need to be treated like people, and some of them are not even getting that. It’s not a bad starting place for a revolution is it?