Born without arms, bullying activist uses disability to ‘make a difference’

After years of being bullied for his congenital disability, speaker Matthew Puriton told College students that he felt the need to help others. (Jess Davis/Staff Photographer)

By Cristina Castelo

Correspondent

Matthew Puriton, a speaker and expert who works with adults and children with pain and physical disabilities, came to the College on Thursday, Oct. 13 to discuss the negative effects of bullying and methods to prevent bullying. Born with a rare disability that resulted in him having hands but no arms, Puriton experienced a lifetime of bullying because of this ailment.

Puriton’s lecture was both informative and emotional, as it managed to teach awareness of the severity of bullying as well as touch some hearts.

Puriton explained that bullying is simply “passive intolerance.” He spoke of how bullies try to eliminate their competition and try to better themselves by degrading others, while being encouraged by others to bully as a form of entertainment.

However, it wasn’t the constant pounding and injury that bothered Puriton the most.

“Social rejection was more hurtful than physical pain,” he said.

This pain and grief brought Puriton to realize he needed to change this for others, but it wasn’t until after college that he fully gained this clarity.

First awarded a full ride to the University of Delaware, Puriton later received his master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania. Puriton said he was afraid of his academic talents growing up because it gave bullies another reason to torment him, and in college he was hesitant to persist with his studies until other students openly accepted him.

“Bullying doesn’t stop just when people graduate high school,” he said.

In retrospect, Puriton now understands the methods of bullying.

“The enemy is bullying,” he said, “The enemy isn’t the kid (who is bullying).”

He explained that “bully” is a term that should be defined as a verb rather than a label for another person. When given the label of a “bully,” a person will often instinctively live up to the label. That, he said, is what needs to stop.

“Bullying stops as soon as another student stands up,” he said, and although it isn’t always the easiest thing to do, standing up for what’s right can prevent a horrible act from happening — as well as a lifetime of guilt for passive bystanders.

Puriton spoke meticulously, leaving goose bumps with his words and inspiring many in his audience to want to carry on his vision of a world without bullying.

“As future teachers at the College,” said Brian Garsh, freshman chemistry and secondary education double major, “we have the power to put an end to this epidemic that has made an impact not only on the lives of people who are disabled, but also on the able-bodied children and people who are bullied.”

Puriton was born different, and all his life he wondered why. When he found it hard to carry on, he said the uplifting words from his parents and teachers always reassured him. He shared those words with the audience: “Because you have a disability, you can make a difference.”