Last June during a panel at Denver Comic Con, a little girl stepped up to the microphone and asked Star Trek: The Next Generation star, Wil Wheaton: “When You Were a Kid Were You Called a Nerd?” For whatever reason, his response has suddenly gone viral and it’s a very, very good thing.
The government site, StopBullying.gov, shows that 28% of U.S. students in grades 6–12 experienced bullying and that 70.6% of young people say they have seen bullying in their schools. The site goes on to explain that the youth at highest risk are those who are perceived to be different from the majority in some way. It could be race, sexual orientation, religion or, in the aforementioned case, a preference for “nerdy” things.
The incredible part is that the studies mentioned on the government site also show that when bystanders intervene, the bullying stops more than half of the time. There are things we can do and that not only involves teaching our children to speak up but it also involves encouraging them to show acceptance for those of all backgrounds.
Shows such as The Big Bang Theory are helping make nerdy interests more mainstream but, as the show also reflects, even the highly successful nerds still deal with their share of social discomfort. Wil Wheaton regularly appears on the show and it’s wonderful to see that his dedication to these fans continues off-screen.
When asked that sensitive question by the little girl at the Denver Comic Con, he had this beautiful, honest and poignant response:
“When I was a boy I was called a nerd all the time—because I didn’t like sports, I loved to read, I liked math and science, I thought school was really cool—and it hurt a lot. Because it’s never ok when a person makes fun of you for something you didn’t choose. You know, we don’t choose to be nerds. We can’t help it that we like these things—and we shouldn’t apologize for liking these things.
I wish that I could tell you that there is really easy way to just not care, but the truth is it hurts. But here’s the thing that you might be able to understand—as a matter of fact I’m confident you will be able to understand this because you asked this question…
When a person makes fun of you, when a person is cruel to you, it has nothing to do with you. It’s not about what you said. It’s not about what you did. It’s not about what you love. It’s about them feeling bad about themselves. They feel sad.
They don’t get positive attention from their parents. They don’t feel as smart as you. They don’t understand the things that you understand. Maybe one of their parents is pushing them to be a cheerleader or a baseball player or an engineer or something they just don’t want to do. So they take that out on you because they can’t go and be mean to the person who’s actually hurting them.
So, when a person is cruel to you like that, I know that this is hard, but honestly the kind and best reaction is to pity them. And don’t let them make you feel bad because you love a thing.
Maybe find out what they love and talk about how they love it. I bet you find out that a person who loves tetherball, loves tetherball in exactly the same way that you love Dr. Who, but you just love different things.
And I will tell you this — it absolutely gets better as you get older.
I know it’s really hard in school when you’re surrounded by the same 400 people a day that pick on you and make you feel bad about yourself. But there’s 50,000 people here this weekend who went through the exact same thing—and we’re all doing really well.
So don’t you ever let a person make you feel bad because you love something they decided is only for nerds. You’re loving a thing that’s for you.”
What a beautiful sentiment and a great reminder to never give up, stay true to ourselves and believe that things will eventually get better.