A High School Outcast Responds to #WalkUp

Don’t let conservatives weaponize kindness and compassion

Image Credit — Igor Ovsyannykov on Pixabay

Every time another mass shooting takes place, I hope that it will finally be the one that prompts our government to take action and implement the gun control laws that we need. I’m honestly not sure why I do. Recent history has taught us that no matter how many schools are shot up, our government cares more about NRA money than about the lives of our nation’s children.

I was glad when talk of walkouts in schools across the nation started gaining more and more traction. I suspected, however, that the more momentum this trend picked up, the more it would be met with resistance on the part of those who have proven they will go to extremes to keep their guns above their mantels and the politicians who will stop at nothing to keep the NRA’s money in their bank accounts. I’ll admit, though, even I didn’t see #walkupnotout coming.

This new social media response to the gun control protests happening in schools across America encourages students to, instead of walking out of their schools during the day, walk up to the students who they notice sitting alone at lunch and befriend them. The logic behind this mentality is based on the notion that the young men who’ve shot up schools in recent years were also social outcasts and that is what prompted them to turn to violence. As much as I support the notion of being kinder to our fellow students, I see several problems with this way of thinking. Allow me to explain.

Let me preface this by saying that throughout my middle and high school years, I was a social outcast. I constantly sat along at lunch and was looked upon with disdain by my peers who did not know me. While I was a lonely kid until my college years, I did not become a school shooter. Never did I give any thought to violence, even when I was bullied in physical ways and belittled in extremely public situations.

Did I harbor feelings of resentment for the students who picked on me for years after high school? Yes, I absolutely did, but I never considered trying to strike back at my tormentors. When I got to college, I discovered that there were many other students like me who’d spent high school eating lunch alone. Like me, they had never given any thought to taking matters into their own hands. Some of them had actually preferred to be alone.

To the thinkers among us who are pressing the students of this country to walk up rather than walk out, I strongly urge you to consider the perspective of the actual students. Not everyone sitting alone wants to be approached. In my experience, the best friendships happen organically. In high school, I had students walk up to me because they felt sorry for me and it honestly wasn’t a good feeling. Their intentions were usually good, but I felt like their charity case and I didn’t like it. I didn’t want people to sit with me at lunch or invite me to parties simply because they felt sorry for me. I wanted people to spend time with me because they genuinely enjoyed my company. There were times when I wanted to be alone and when people would try to chat me up, I’d find it more annoying than anything. I know this is true for other students today. Some of those kids you see sitting by themselves in our school cafeterias are alone because they choose to sit alone.

Image credit — elizabethaferry on Pixabay

For some, socializing can be stressful. At college, I have encountered students who choose not to go to parties because they find that such situations give them anxiety. I can certainly see their perspective. Anyone who knows me would tell you that I am a pretty sociable individual but sometimes even I need a break. I have plenty of friends at college but sometimes I need to just sit alone and drink my coffee with music playing in my headphones while I zone out and relax.

The #WalkUp concept is also problematic because of its victim-blaming mentality. In a sense, it is putting the responsibility for the shootings taking on other students who were perhaps not as friendly as they could have been to their less popular classmates. That is absolutely ridiculous. The students in today’s schools are there for an education. It is not their responsibility to socialize with anyone they do not want to. It should also be noted that if students do not want to mix with other students, it could easily be because that person has done something to make them feel uncomfortable in the past. Whatever the reason, everyone is entitled to their own feelings and their own space.

If you must find someone to blame besides the shooter, blame the politicians who refuse to impose common-sense regulations on firearms. Every year we see multiple mass shootings and each time the men and women who are elected to make laws to protect us express their “deepest sympathy” but make no moves to change anything. They zone out while the parents of murdered children voice their pleas for action. Instead, they listen intently to the highly paid NRA lobbyists who they fear will cost them their cushy Washington jobs. Until the NRA money is permanently out of politics, we will never see the change we need.

Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of walk up is that it is all too easy to hide the true political motives of the organizers pushing it behind a mask of kindness and compassion. We cannot allow ourselves to be fooled. Pressuring children in schools to be kinder to their less popular peers will not eliminate the need for sensible gun laws. Also, if you are a student sitting alone in the lunch room, do you want the dangerous stigma they are attaching to you? I can’t imagine why anyone would. Not every loner is a dangerous shooter in the making and we should not be viewing them in such a way. They are people who simply want to live their lives and sometimes that involves sitting alone.

I stand in solidarity with the students across our nation who continue to stand up and walk out of their classrooms in peaceful, non-violent protests. I salute the teachers and parents who stand with them and encourage it. I am extremely proud of the high school students at my alma mater who recently staged a “die-in” in which they spent 20 minutes laying on the ground in a deep snowfall, making a strong statement and I wish I could have laid down with them.

To students everywhere, I urge you to stand up and walk out and if you want to walk up, make sure it’s what the other kid wants. This walk-up movement is a front for a dangerous, corrupt organization that is helping keep firearms in the hands of the people who should not be allowed near them. The academic year isn’t over yet and neither is your chance to make a statement. Walk out, not up.

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Samuel O'Brient

Samuel O'Brient

Financial news writer by day, political commentator by night. Former economic policy analyst. Founder and Publisher of My Side of the Aisle.