Skip to content

Bully

October 21, 2011

There’s an interesting blog series ongoing at Salon.com that I’ve been following (clued into it thanks to a link from Jay Lake‘s link salad).  The series asks people to reconnect with their childhood bullies and to interview them and write about the experience.  It’s called, naturally, “Interview With My Bully“.

The premise is interesting.  It’s the story of the abuser from the perspective of the abused: comparing and contrasting the irrational hatreds of children with the reasonably respectable adults they’ve become.  Only a handful of the Interviews have been posted, yet – but invariably the bullies of childhood eventually evolved into upright, respectable, productive citizens.  What’s particularly interesting is how many of these bullies have forgotten the pain they once inflicted – it’s something that has receded into their memory.  I don’t doubt, though, that the experience of being a bully has deep implications for their adult psychology.

Like a lot of nerdishly-inclined people, I was bullied growing up.  But I’m not a very good candidate for this project.  I have no single, memorable bully that I can point to.  I recall none of their names.  My bullies were mostly semi-anonymous: kids I spent very little time around, except during recess or between classes, times when we were out of the direct eye of a teacher or administrator or other adult.  That was when I was vulnerable.

Surprisingly, I survived a number of fights as a child relatively unscathed.  I wasn’t a good fighter, really.  It’s just that I think my bullies were relatively bad at beating people up.  There weren’t that many punches thrown by my tormenters – really only one that I recall with specificity, but it was quite a wallop.  Or maybe, other than that one guy who was itching to just punch somebody because he could… maybe most of my bullies didn’t have their hearts in the physical violence.

Emotional torment, though, that’s another story.

I took all kinds of garbage from a lot of different kids.  It was painful sometimes.  I won’t go into the details of what happened, but you can imagine.  A lot of teasing; a lot of emasculating derision; always getting picked last for teams (even, bizarrely, often for teams for intellectual competition instead of physical competition).  There were occasional bright-spots, and things got easier in higher grades – but until college I was almost always a loner.  It was, I suppose, easy to target an emotionally-insecure young man who didn’t understand the social rules of the in-crowd.

As a father, this is of a particular interest to me.  I love my dear little B.T. fiercely.  He’s at an age, luckily, where he has not yet encountered the cruelty humans can sometimes inflict on each other.  Toddlers, in general, aren’t emotionally developed enough to understand it.  Luckily, he’s already showing signs that he’ll have a strong, confident personality.  In any event, I’ll be there for him – I’ll move mountains, heaven and earth – to help him navigate the troubled waters of middle-school years.

I imagine some of you, dear readers, could tell similar stories.  Those who have will, no doubt, feel some resonance with the Salon series on bullying. 

Were you ever bullied, outcast, or shunned by your peers as a child?  Of course, I understand if you’re not interested in sharing… but if it helps to talk about it, you know where to leave a comment.

Advertisements
9 Comments leave one →
  1. October 21, 2011 7:54 pm

    Hmm…that is an interesting concept.

    I can’t recall too many specific instances of being bullied. Of course, I’ve come across racial stuff before, and maybe that would be considered bullying, but for the most part I think I got it fairly easy growing up.

    I’ve gotten slack from other blacks because I don’t sound “black” when I speak, followed by threats to start fights and whatnot. Luckily I had friends who they respected (’cause they talked “black” and stood up for me, and they’d back off. I also remember in elementary school being approached by boys I didn’t like (though, that occurred all the way up to college, really). LoL…there was this one kid I really liked but never said so and he was the tallest and largest boy in our grade–almost abnormally so for a second-grader. I got cornered by a handful of little wolves once…and lo and behold, Sir Big-A-Lot comes to save the day.

    I do believe he threw a punch or two in my defense. No stupid boys messed with me any more. (Not at that school anyway.)

    It’s silly, but I remember he had blue eyes and lived in a blue house and I’d go and visit it sometimes, just to look. But then he moved. 😦

    Anyway, there was another instance of a guy trying to pressure me into doing stuff I didn’t want to, both me and my friend… His name was Adolf, and I always remember comparing him to Adolf Hitler, haha. He was a dirty, conniving little boy, sorry to say. Don’t know where he is now. I just know that once he got caught he and his family moved (the whole neighborhood pretty much loathed them) and we never heard from him again.

    Not sure if I’d want to anyway, heh.

    • October 24, 2011 1:38 pm

      The racial stuff is something I haven’t had to deal with quite as much (getting teased/made fun of in the context of being a “whitey” doesn’t come with the same cultural baggage and socioeconomic oppression that the reverse does, in America – I did get called that, and it was mean, and at times I wished I had beautiful bronzed skin… but the fact is that being “whitey” doesn’t carry the weight of decades of historic oppression). I think it has the bonus of being both bullying and bigotry. So it’s a double-whammy of suck. The negative effects of peer pressure are another aspect that I think is probably tangential to bullying but still related to the “kids can be crap to each other sometimes, if we don’t mitigate it” problem of bullying. I never specifically suffered from the effects of peer pressure in any substantial way, that I can remember – but this was in large measure related to the bullying because the reason I never suffered or succumbed to peer pressure is that I was so oblivious to social pressures due likely in part to my inability to grasp the social rules at that age.

  2. October 22, 2011 3:51 pm

    Only one instance comes to mind:

    In one of my first acting classes (I may have been seven or eigtht), there was a boy named Jesse. For whatever reason, he decided one day that he was going to walk up to me (I believe I was minding my own business at the time, but I can’t be positive), back me up against a table (or maybe I’d already been standing there, and just ended up shrinking back more), poke me in the chest a couple times, and tell me I was stupid. It was my first time dealing with such arbitrary meanness, and needless to say, it hurt my feelings. I went and found a chair in which to sit and be sad/mad for several minutes, deciding that for the next acting game we played (we were to pretend to be various toys), I would be a stuffed Coca-Cola polar bear, so I could just sit there and mime drinking and not have to get up and have any real fun. (This did not prove a sign of future alcoholism, I reassure you all.)

    I can’t remember if I mentioned the incident to the teacher or not. I know her daughter (also in the class) came over to inquire after me, and either she or I may have said something to her mother. *lack of recollection shrug* Either way, Jesse never bothered me again. I may have briefly swiped his hat at some later point, but that’s irrevelent and apparently in keeping with what I do to boys in acting groups who show up with backward basecall caps. (I don’t think I was ever a bully, but I knew how to be a pest.)

    Tiyana: I’ve gotten comments about the way I speak, too, in recent years. Not picked on, per se, but mildly mocked. Even my little sisters get that. From privileged white girls. Turns out even one or two syllables can constitute a big, fancy word to the proudly illiterate.

    • October 24, 2011 1:45 pm

      One of the common problems of bullying – and one of the reasons I think it persists – is that the victims of bullying so rarely report the incidence to “authorities” (i.e. adults). Relatedly there has been a historic disregard for the problem by those same authority figures – bullying has been written off as just a part of growing up, and little discipline has been applied to bullies, their problem behavior written off as though they’ll “just grow out of it”. Maybe yes. But the victims don’t “just grow out” of the pain and damage that was caused. But I’m glad it seems like some discipline was applied to your particular bully. A small number of incidents I think a person can more easily heal from…

  3. October 24, 2011 10:44 am

    I wasn’t bullied as a child—I was homeschooled—But it does seem like a problem…

    I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Casey Heynes, the bullied 16-year-old who totally dominated his 12-year-old bully. I really don’t think it’s fair how much the bully has been demonized…Casey is a heavy teenager, and the bully is as small as a twig…I really don’t think the public reacted rightly, when they seemed to give Casey a huge thumbs-up for snapping.

    Anyhow, I was never bullied so I don’t have any experiential authority on the subject, what are your thoughts on it?

    • October 24, 2011 12:48 pm

      Well, the smaller kid surely had it coming.

      Did Casey have to turn the bully upside down and go all WWE on him? Probably not, but sometimes folks just need their butts thoroughly whooped for them to learn their lessons.

      And I don’t think people were cheering because Casey snapped but rather because he stood up to his bully. What gets me is how PC or polite people want to be these days. If no one else is doing anything to correct the kid’s behavior, then this is the next best thing, imo, violent as it may be because I bet you that kid won’t pick on Casey anymore and will think twice about messing with anyone else.

      Casey’s actions may not have been the best, but at least he had the resolve to do something about it. What were the adults–parents, teachers–doing all that time to curb the situation? Anything? I haven’t seen reports on this.

      The other thing I haven’t heard anything about was the bully’s situation. What kind of parents did he have? What was his family situation, etc…. It’s just not right to draw judgements and assumptions about anyone when you don’t even know the half of their story (and even then I’d be wary). Something, after all, drove the kid to start bullying in the first place.

      • October 24, 2011 4:28 pm

        Tiyana: I share your concern for the situation and condition of the bully himself: surely something is warped or messed up in his upbringing. That said, as an object of bullying, I have a different perspective on the nature of bullying itself. My parents always told me, when I complained about it to them: “ignore it; they’re just jealous”. Jealous of what, exactly, was never made clear, though it was implied that they were jealous because I was so much smarter than they. And while it was true that I was typically smarter, I learned over the years that jealousy has nothing to do with bullying. Bullying is entirely about power dynamics. It’s about establishing a pecking order, and gaining social power by forcefully taking it from others. There’s a lot of reasons a bully might want to take power this way instead of accruing it in a more socially acceptable way – sometimes it’s because the bully lacks the means to accrue power in other ways, and sometimes it’s because they lack an understanding of any other path (because of violence in their own homes), but sometimes it’s just because. I’ve been bullied by people of both higher and lower socio-economic status than myself. Some of them, I am convinced, had more priveleged upbringings than my own, and happy home-lives. Some, just as certainly, had worse situations than my own. The problem with bullying is that it can’t be easily explained by violence in the home – not all bullies are themselves first victims. Where that is the case, it should be addressed. Where it is not the case, a different model has to be employed.

    • October 24, 2011 4:20 pm

      Hmm. I wasn’t familiar with Heynes’ story prior to this – but that’s a bit of a loaded question, frankly. To condone Heynes’s outburst would seem, implicitly, to condone the same sort of violence and cruelty used by bullies. Indeed, the line between bully and bullee (as it were) is frighteningly easy to cross. (Confessionally: I crossed it, once, to my great chagrin. But that’s part of the psychology of bullying. But I cannot defend my failure in that regard.) So, to start, I’ll say that I don’t condone violence – once you accept one act of violence you’re on a slippery slope, and it gets hard to draw the line as to what is acceptable violence and what is not. That said, however, there is a false equivalency between the violence perpetrated by a bully and the violence of a bullying victim retaliating in self-defense. I sympathize very strongly with Casey in this case – although I wasn’t fat (and so wasn’t teased for being fat, but for other reasons), I was subjected to very similar treatment. And I, too, lashed out once or twice at my tormentors. In my case, however, I lacked the physical prowess and presence to put an end to the bullying simply by lashing out. I was so ineffectual, on a physical level, that lashing out only served to goad my various bullies into further bullying – at least until they eventually grew bored of the ease with which they could pick on me. Being able to do what Casey did – that’s a fantasy many of us who have been bullied had many-a-time. In many ways, I think the reaction to Casey’s outburst is largely an affirmation of that fantasy – of being able to stand up for one’s self and put an end to an unjust torment – as well as an affirmative condemnation of the abuse Casey (and others like us) suffered. The sad part: I think Casey likely put an end to this specific bully’s targeting of himself, but I suspect the lesson learned by the bully was not “don’t bully” but instead was “be more judicious about picking targets for my bullying, and make sure to select targets that are less physically capable”. Or, in other words… they’ll just move on to some other poor soul that the bully perceives to be weaker than the bully. Casey, on the other hand: I suspect the notoriety gained from this outburst will serve to inocculate him against further attempts at bullying for a while… although it’s possible the bullies instead will just try to test the limits (i.e. “how much bullying can I do before Casey snaps?”)

Trackbacks

  1. Religious Freedom vs. Anti-Bullying: FIGHT! « The Undiscovered Author

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: