My publisher has recently informed me about a program called ‘Writers Against Bullying’ and invited me to write a post about bullying.
The first thoughts I have on bullying takes me back to elementary school. I have ADD, Dyslexia, and multiple learning disabilities. Needless to say I had a hard time. I was bullied by several kids in kindergarten through the fifth grade including my second and third grade teachers.
I was a late bloomer physically, too. Our teacher would choose two leaders for games on the playground, who would then choose their teammates down to the last kid. Me. Uncoordinated and awkward, my fear and insecurity only made my efforts to compete worse. I was always the last chosen and the first out.
Inside the classroom was harder. Again, these same teachers would divide the classroom for ‘learning games.’ Fun right? No. My anxiety skyrocketed. I could hardly breathe. Two teams would take turns in spelling bees, or race to the blackboard to see who could complete a multiplication problem, diagram a sentence, or write the answer to a geography question first. Can you even guess the nightmare that was for someone like me? Being part of a team of kids you knew you’d disappoint before you even stood up?
My mind would go blank. I’d break out in a sweat, hands shaking, and try not to cry this time.
Kids called me stupid, and retarded, and idiot. They tripped me and knocked me down. My teachers often joined in, hitting me and pulling my hair when I got a problem wrong. I’m sure you can imagine the impact that had.
So. So what?
So last year, I’m in the parking lot of a grocery store, and I pull out in front of another car. She wasn’t close to me. At least I didn’t think so, but this cra cra followed me around the lot, six inches from my bumper, trying to run me off the road. I parked. She got out of her car and started screaming at me. I can still see her screaming obscenities with her hands on her hips, pinched face and platinum hair teased to the sky. She said I was stupid, called me an idiot, and said I was retarded.
I remember breathing hard. Adrenaline made my head pound and then everything went red. I was angry. Fury disproportionate to my circumstances, because I found myself wanting to smite her and all her kin from the universe!
But I thought about my reaction for a long while and had a cool kind of breakthrough. See, I root for underdogs. I get really defensive when kids, or animals, or anyone perceived as weaker is threatened. And I hate injustice. Why? Because when I was seven, I was the underdog. I know how it feels, and it sucks. A lot. In my mind, I can still see the tiny, little girl that I was. She was cute. Nice enough. Wanted a friend. Wanted to please. She just couldn’t. Didn’t know how.
Now that I’m grown up, I don’t have to take that crap lying down anymore. And I don’t. I want to fight for anyone else who can’t defend themselves. Imagine my surprise when I found out sometimes, that’s the bully.
Kids bully for lots of reasons. Sometimes their parent or guardian, the person they trust and look to for love and direction meets that child with abuse or neglect. Maybe there’s a lack of supervision or the parent is so overly permissive, the kid has no moral compass, no gauge for right and wrong. An older sibling might bully them. They might have friends that bully, or use the behavior to enhance their social power, or protect their prestige with peers, or deflect aggression directed toward them.
So what do we do?
I wish I knew. I’m not a shrink, or doctor, or expert. I’m a writer. But I do have some parting thoughts to share. I challenged myself that day in the parking lot to think a little deeper about the subject. If you relate at all, I challenge you, too.
For the bullied: if you’re like me, I will tell you that most of us move on. Life changes, gets better. A life well lived really is the best revenge. Statistics show that for a high percentage of us … what we went through, like it or not, built character. We survived and are stronger for our experiences. Aren’t we? It’s not like that for the bully. What drove them to that behavior in the first place is likely still with them. Unless they get counseling, their abuse and demons haunt them. Can you condemn the behavior and not the person?
Tough question, I know.
For the bully: you can choose something else. You have the power to change. Just because you decide to be different, doesn’t mean you’re disloyal to the person who modeled the behavior for you. Give yourself permission to reject the specific behavior and still love them. Talk to someone you trust. Believe me, I’m the last person to judge. There were times in school I could have spoken up on behalf of someone else and didn’t. I stood by and let bad things happen out of peer pressure, weakness, and fear. I had shame about that for a long time. I had to forgive myself, maybe you do too.
Like I said, I’m not an expert. There are no easy solutions. I just hurt for the hurting. If we extend as much grace and forgiveness as we’re able while setting healthy boundaries for ourselves, it’s a decent first step.
I’d love to get your thoughts. Hear your stories—from either side of the bullying fence. Share your wisdom with me, people, if you will. Love you guys.