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There were jocks, nerds, geeks, stoners, and bookworms. I could probably fill a page with the names we called various kids when I went to school—and that was 25 years ago!  As crazy as it sounds to me today, we labeled other people based on what they looked like, what they wore, and whether or not they were popular. I look back now and wonder how many true friends everyone could have had if we hadn’t all been so narrow minded.

I was recently saddened to see that exclusionary behavior is still alive and well. A few weeks ago I had an opportunity to watch groups of young people in a high school cafeteria during a noon time meal. The room was quite full, and only a few empty seats remained at two tables in the center of the room. As I stood in the serving line waiting for my food, I felt a knot in my stomach from what I observed.

A teen girl approached one of the empty seats where about seven others were seated. She didn’t stay for very long.  “Get out of here we don’t want you sitting there, that seat is saved.” The words cut through the air like a jagged knife. I helplessly watched the girl pick up her tray and move on to find another seat in an already packed dining room.

A Lump Formed in My Throat

A lump formed in my throat and my heart ached for the unfortunate one who received such a rude greeting. What was going through her mind? How could she eat lunch after that kind of treatment? And what could I do to even bring value to the situation and maybe make her feel better?

The best I could come up with was a smile and a kind word or two when I passed her in the hall that afternoon. I’m sure it didn’t take the sting out of the verbal assault she encountered from the group of popular girls during mealtime, but I hope it helped somehow.

After that experience, it occurred to me that there are probably thousands upon thousands of kids who don’t feel like they fit in; maybe even millions. How do they feel when they are excluded, what goes through their mind when someone tells them to get lost?

We know the difference between right and wrong. We understand when someone is being mistreated, and there is something that we can do about it. Being nice to those who are not just like us can make all the difference in the way they feel, and in how we feel too. It may not be popular, it may not win us any points with the “in” crowd, but it can make a huge difference in the life of someone who may be struggling to find their place in a world.

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By Michael Temple. Copyright © 2014 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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