Ruminating On: Bullying

This is month is National Bullying Prevention Month. Good on us, society. But there are still some subjects that haven’t been touched upon, some ideas that I do not fully understand or agree with, and a few hard truths no one seems to want to hear. As per usual, I’ll start with my own experiences.

Yeah, I was bullied as a child, but my bullies were a little more forthcoming than others. I’m not making light of anyone else’s dealings with bullies, just stating the facts. I had the back of my hair set fire with a match to the results of giggles and guffaws. No one asked if I was all right. They only laughed. We were playing volleyball during PE, and some kid came up behind me with a matchbook. I smelled the hair burning, then I felt the heat. I wasn’t scarred, but I had to shave my head later that day. The principle gave the boy a three day suspension. When he came back, he spread an untrue rumor that he’d caught me masturbating in the boy’s room. I became The Jerker. Nothing was done no matter who I told. Everyone just said, “They’re only words.” Yeah… just words. I was also poked excessively throughout junior high and high school. This was an unfortunate side effect stemming from the Pillsbury Dough Boy. As most of you already know, I’ve been fat my entire life, so I suppose the likeness could be true. I don’t blame General Mills, nor do I blame the guy that created the infamous boy made of dough. When the pokes didn’t seem to bother me anymore, several kids reverted to punching me in the gut instead. I’d fight back eventually, but all that resulted in was more boys showing up to help the one who had started the bullying. Then we’d all end up suspended. All of us. Yes, including me. So pardon me if I laugh in the face of anyone who says bullied kids will be fine if they only stand up for themselves. Just because you’re strong enough to fight back, doesn’t mean it will help. In most cases, it only makes matters worse.

So, why didn’t I snap and shoot up my school? Why didn’t I resort to cutting or other self mutilation? Why didn’t I just finally end it all by hanging myself in a closet? The easy answer is, I like me. I always have. Somewhere, I hold an ego so large that King Kong pales in comparison when judged by sheer size and presence. The hard answer is what I want to talk about today. I never snapped.

No one wants to believe that there’s not a lot of difference between bullies and the people they harass. Stopbullying.gov has entire lists stating the differences, but what about the similarities? Both subjects are dealing with insecurities. One needs to build themselves up by tearing others down, and the other doesn’t protect themselves because they don’t feel they can. Both subjects come from households that could be better. And finally, both subjects, in the most extreme cases, are suffering from mental instability. Bear with me, but you may not like me after this.

Cutters and suicides can no longer deal with the emotional pain. Cutters replace the emotional pain with a pain they can control, physical pain. And suicides, well, they simply end the pain altogether. I feel a great deal of remorse for these individuals, but in most cases, there are underlying causes aside from bullying. They know they’re different, whether because their mind plays tricks on them, or because they’re told they are. And yes, they are different, but not in the lesser sense, just in the overall sense. They are wired differently. Sometimes, there’s something before the bullying, and the bully only serves as the catalyst, the trigger effect, the proverbial straw that broke the camels back. In severe cases, these subjects will act out in a greater scale, shooting up their schools, killing their peers. But they don’t solely target the bullies. Why is that? I surmise, but I could be wrong, that in the subject’s mind they just want everyone to feel some of the pain they do. And if they cannot feel said pain, death is the next best option. We’re dealing with mental illness, a difference in chemical makeup. I do not feel better, or more put-together than these people. I only know they exist. And that it’s a very sad state of affairs when they are pushed beyond their capacity to deal.

Bullying, like racism and sexism and any other social deformity, will never end. We have no control over others. What we can do is provide an ear for the bully and the bullied alike. Far too often bullied children, and even adults, are told that sticks and stones will… yada, yada, yada. The truth is, those words escalate and turn into tangible things by which someone can pummel you with. Everyone has a breaking point. Luckily for me, I never reached it. I don’t even know if I ever came close to it, but I’m glad I didn’t. People snap. It’s a fact of life. When an adult goes on a killing spree at a movie theater all you hear about is that person’s mental issues. But when a child goes off the deep end, it always has to be a bully’s fault. Bullies suck. They suck big time. But, we always seem to blame someone else instead of focusing in on the real issue. Not once have we heard about a child shooting up his school not being bullied. Now, was he bullied because he was a little off kilter to begin with? Who knows? Maybe you guys can answer that in the comment section. If he was, that still doesn’t make it right. Let me be clear about that though. I am not on the side of the bully, I only want to understand what it takes to kill a classroom full of your peers. But, sometimes, as in my case, bullying made me a stronger person because I saw those aggressive kids for what they truly were. Just as different and insecure as myself. Later in life, I would use anyone who told me that I wasn’t good enough or strong enough as a stepping stone to do better.

There is no answer to bullying, there is only learning to how to cope with it. I’m all for world peace, but yeah, we’ll see how that goes. Human beings are crap most of the time. We only think about ourselves, then wonder why other people don’t understand that the world revolves solely around us.

This is my curse, folks. To see both sides of the equation. I wish I had more answers for you, but I’m trying to figure everything out as I go along, just like many of you. Maybe if we understand the mindset of these children, pre-bullied, we’d understand where the severe cases come from. Then again, as with Tom Cruise, we may never know what the hell went wrong.

Remember, I feel for you guys. I’ve been there.

LYF

E.

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7 thoughts on “Ruminating On: Bullying

  1. Ugh. This is a heartbreaking subject. It makes me cry when I hear about kids who feel there is no other option but to end their life.

    I was never bullied in school, nor did I ever single someone out to bully. I tried my best to get along with everyone. But growing up, I did have two older neighbors who used to like dragging me off and locking me in their grandmother’s garage and devising cruel ways to torment me. Eventually I got big enough and strong enough to fight back and they stopped–but to this day I still can’t stand enclosed spaces or the feeling of being trapped.

    This is a really poignant post, E. I’m not sure how I feel. I went through this a few years back with my son. He was constantly getting beat up and made fun of and the kid refused to do anything back. The school did nothing….but when he decided to start defending himself, then they were more than happy to implement their “zero violence” policy.

    So…it was okay when he was coming home with bruises from being kicked, or knocked down, or hit, but not when he refused to lie down and take it anymore. I call bullshit. On a lot of levels, I blame the schools. There is only so much the parents can do, and even when they try every possible avenue, their hands are still tied. There’s no reason why my kid should have had to resort to violence just to make it through the school day.

    Was it a lack of something at home? I’m not sure. His father was unattentive and not around. Maybe that led to something latent. We didn’t live in some 300k home. Maybe that contributed. But I always try my best to make sure my kids know they are special, they have purpose and are loved beyond compare, and that whatever difficulties and struggles they face in school are temporary. There is a whole world and a lifetime of experiences waiting for them beyond those educational and often cruel walls.

    Bullying, I just don’t understand. I do think it is an aggressive impulse meant to mask the insecurity and pain they feel..but for fuck’s sake, what ever happened to empathy and compassion? Bah. I’m out before I write a full novel here in response.

    Great blog.

    1. Your comment, this on right here, is why I do this blog, Adriana. Everyone has a story, and maybe, just maybe, I can pull it out of them, or make them think. The people of this world are severely lacking in compassion and human decency, there is no doubt about that. In the end, we can only fight back with love and acceptance. That’s how we cope, how we deal. From what you’ve just said, you are an amazing mother. I had one like you, but I also had an indifferent father who just told me I was being a pussy. Did that help or hurt, I don’t know. Nowadays, I just remove bullies from the equation. But some people don’t have that option.

      LYF, Adri,

      E.

  2. I have no experience, either first or second-hand, of either side of the bullying problem. That I’m thankful for. It also means I’m wildly unqualified to contribute anything here, other than an impression I’ve got from reading this post, Adriana’s comment, and similar things in the past: schools are not handling this well. At all.

    Also, just wanted to mention that I’m impressed at how compassionately and objectively you’re able to discuss both sides of the issue, E., given the history you describe. You seem remarkably well adjusted.

    You know, except for the whole horror writer thing.

    1. Well, that horror writer thing is part of my escape mechanism. Instead of shooting up schools, I made bad things happen to people in my stories. It’s that coping thing I was talking about. We all cope in our own way, or we don’t and then people get hurt.

      Thanks for stopping by, Dan!

      E.

  3. I didn’t comment on this E. I should have but gosh there has been so much related violence lately, I’ve been feeling overwhelmed. Two suicides (that we know about) in British Columbia and the cruelty that has followed is unfathomable…yet it has happened.

    I was not bullied as a child. In a different timeframe, I probably would have been. Looking back, I got through school relatively unscathed. I have been trying to remember if others suffered. I guess I won’t know if they suffered but I don’t remember bullying, I truly don’t.

    I appreciated your post here, and as always, appreciated you being so honest (though you only know how to be honest, don’t you my friend? :)).

  4. You know, I had this long, drawn out comment I was going to make on this subject. But however I tried to write it, I came out sounding like an ass. So let me just say this…

    I’ve been on the receiving side of bullying. For me, it was just a fact of life. It was a factor in the environment in which I grew up. Now, I won’t go so far as to claim I turned out all right. I mean, I count you as a friend E., so I’m obviously at least a little unstable. πŸ˜‰

    However, I never felt the desire to cut on myself, or in some other way act out against myself or others. I suppose the biggest factor in my self confidence was the fact that I had two stable parents who were an active influence in my life.

    Yes, bullying is a thing. It’s a bad thing. But not everything needs to be legislated. Not everything requires a special day or month of recognition. You want to do something about bullying? Spend some time with your kids. Teach them some empathy for others so they won’t be as inclined to be bullies. Give them the self-confidence to stand up to those that do bully others. And teach them that it’s okay to get your ass kicked every now and then, if you’re standing up for what’s right.

    That’s what my wife and I have tried to instill in our kids. We made sure they had at least two years of martial arts training. We actively engaged them in various ethics scenarios as they were growing up, and encouraged them to act according to what we taught them. And to me, one of the most important things we taught them was that *if* they were in the right, we would be there to back them up, even if they got into a fight at school. I’m not a fan of these “zero tolerance” policies that punish kids for defending themselves. So I let them know that while I wouldn’t put up with them getting into unnecessary fights, I would back them to the end if it came to them having to defend themselves or someone else.

    My “kids” are now 33, 25, and 19, and I couldn’t be prouder of the adults they’ve grown into.

  5. Good man, Jeff. I don’t have anything to add, aside from what I stated in the blog. Fighting back didn’t help me, but it does work quite often. I’ve seen just sticking up for yourself vocally work. I was an extreme case that turned out all right, though.

    Thanks for stopping by πŸ˜‰

    E.

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