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.