Thursday, 10 May 2012

Dear Bully,

Your fifteen minutes may soon be up. I would like to take this opportunity to call you out, sir. You were not a merry prankster; you were a bully. You may actually not remember these bullying incidents, but I guarantee you, the people you hurt do. I was bullied all the way through elementary and high school. It’s in part why I was an alcoholic by the time I was 20. It’s also why I became an elementary school teacher. In my forty something years on Earth, I have learned a few things about bullies.

Here’s what I know. I KNOW bullying hurts; emotionally, psychologically, physically, and spiritually. In 1943, Abraham Maslowe wrote about our innate needs as human beings. Here’s my favourite version of the chart.

 I am proposing here what I'd like to think of as Sparrow's Theory of Belonging;  bullying prevents self-actualization by destroying one's sense of community. Being bullied makes CRYSTAL clear that the victim is other. They are not of the community, they are shunned. THEY DO NOT BELONG. That's the message, right? We get that. Those of us who have been bullied understood that message loud and clear. It's why we end up joining gangs, or becoming alcoholics and addicts, or why the bullied sometimes turn into the biggest bullies. Fight back and gain acceptance; that's the message lots of people give their bullied children with the best of intentions. For those who have been beaten down too far to fight back, or who know that yes, they are outside of what's societally acceptable in the primitive culture that is High School, that's not possible. That's why bullying causes suicide. The tormentors, though? Many of them go on to be successful and happy, because they can rationalise away their actions as High School Pranks.

I went to a high school where pranks were a big part of the graduation hijinkery. (GO SEMI TOTEMS!)
Sneaking onto the rugby field with dozens of bottles of bleach and spelling out GRAD 83 is a prank. Getting the rugby team to carry a 1970s Mini Cooper down a flight of stairs so you can drive it through the hallway (yes, really!) is a prank. Climbing over a barbwire fence to 'borrow' a speedboat and then chickening out halfway through is stupid, but it's still no more than a prank.* Pranks are funny and harmless. Pushing someone to the ground and cutting off their hair? NOT A PRANK!

I have a bad left shoulder. Perhaps this is due to the prank I was part of in 6th grade, when I was shoved from behind into a portable classroom wall. I'm pretty sure I hit it with my left cheek Pushing someone to the ground and cutting off their hair is assault. Saying "Attagirl" to a gay male classmate is hate speech. And by all that is good and pure in this world, DRIVING THOUSANDS OF MILES WITH YOUR DOG IN A BOX ON TOP OF YOUR STATION WAGON is animal abuse. 

This is the TWENTY FIRST CENTURY, Mr., and I am afraid that your ideas (Assaulting people is harmless fun! The dog loved it!) do not belong here. Please go away. Soon.

I wish you well in your life, and out of mine.

* I actually participated in one of these events in High School. Guess which one?


  1. As a former.victim of bullying, I feel I am intimately able to speak to this. And I respect your opinion as well...because I can relate. In 6th grade my nose was broken by "the bullies." They regularly chased me all the way home, threw rocks and acorns at me, jeered, insulted, taunted and berated me. Because I was new, redhead, ugly, whatever.
    It formed me into who I am today. And because I cowered and did not do what I now teach my children to do, I spent many years in anger and resentment. Today I can look on them with apathy and a little pity. You see, I know what they've become. I met one of them, at my invitation, to a play date. She showed up with her severely autistic son, and we talked. I saw that her "cross" to bear was much heavier than mine. She now has a son she must protect from bullies all his life. I told her how much she hurt me, and she seriously couldn't recall a bit of it. She cried. I lost all of my superiority complex, thinking of the sad and difficult irony of it all. She is a lovely lady, does a lot for others, and contributes a lot to her community publicly. Should I now publicly dredge up something stupid and mean she did 35 years ago so that,she quits doing public good now? BTW, she did not apologize.
    Being stupid and unfeeling is, for aome kids, part of their formation, be it nature or nurture. There is nothing wrong with calling them out on it, but as in all things written, it's important to know that the accounts we are reading are conflicting, and even a bully can grow up and be a kind and caring person. I also have to say, no offense, but your pranks were not without cost to others, either, costing time and money to fix and great pains to others to fix or undo.
    Just my way more than $.02 lol

    1. Thanks for you comments; worth much more than .02!

      I agree with you about the pranks and their cost: having been on the other side, I know a little about what costs of repair does to school budgeting. I wasn't popular enough to have participated in the bleach incident; the Mini belonged to a very good friend, but I only watched it go down the hall, and we left the speedboat exactly where it was!

  2. During college I was with a group of guy friends, quite shitfaced, when they decided to destroy a flower bed that spelled out the college name. Must've taken the landscaping people hours and hours, and SO much money to create, and my friends destroyed it. I was the only female, and had absolutely no power to make them not do it, I hurried home lol. To this day I still feel horrible about it.
    I've seen many an act of actual bullying (besides my own experience), and one kid who actually did shoot himself (he was bullied, but killed himself several years later, so I think there's a predisposition to his particular issues). But the one thing I find most important is that victims decide not to be victims. It helped me a lot.
    Funny anecdote; my brother in law's wife had this incorrigible son (mostly because she ignored him like he was luggage), and he caused so much trouble they sent him to a military school. He did not belong there. He tried to cause trouble but would just get punished, not expelled. Until he told the school administrators he was gay. He was out within a week. He was a clever kid. But he caused untold amounts of damage, and legal fees to his parents. Today he is a college grad, and is a productive member of society. I do think everyone has the chance to smarten up.

  3. "Belong".. That is the KEY...It's what I am getting at. When kids KNOW they don't belong, they accept their victimisation much more easily. They have that sense of community belonging that we as social animals need! Conversely, kids that have that belonging need met by virtue of belonging to a strong family, a dojo, a soccer team, a united community are better able to stand up for themselves.

  4. I really relate to that feeling of being 'other' in school. I got bullied at several points in school and it is the loneliest feeling. I am determined to help kids not feel this way so that its not only the popular kids who enjoy school but more of us! I am going to school for art therapy so I can have a career helping to change this situation. It is encouraging to see more school address the issue of bullying and work to create a more inclusive environment.

  5. Well, all kids DO belong. Period. We are all members of a school community; we are members of a classroom community. When the kids know there is no culture of community in a school, bullying is allowed to flourish. Sometimes, the adults do the bullying.

    1. This. My cousin who shot himself in October had suffered from lifelong depression, exacerbated by religiously-motivated homophobic bullying from his entire immediate family. Part of the reason he was such a beloved part of holidays at his cousin's house (my sister's husband) is because he took shelter there: at his cousin Mike's, he would not suffer bullying from his parents (bio and step-) or his own brother.

      "But we have to bring him to Christ and save his soul!" people like this often cry. May I suggest that after the first 52 times you attempt this, you stop trying to confront him and just leave him the figgity fuck alone? I'm sure it will go on your permanent record that you tried.

      I got bullied by peers. Too smart, small, awkward, female, unfeminine, Different. So did my partner, who -- gasp! -- was a strapping young lad in West Texas who preferred books to sports. He's 42 and it's still hard to get him to state his opinion on some issues, and still hard for him to make friends with other men. (Interestingly, he has a great pal at work who, unlike him, is gay -- and thus knows what othering is like.)

      Yeah, it changed me. I learned how to gut people emotionally by finding their weakness and saying something cruel about it, because I couldn't fight back physically. I don't like having that ability.

      Will I ever forget being stuffed feet-first into a wastebasket in front of my fifth-grade classroom? Nope. Won't forget the guy's name, either. It's not like he broke my leg, right? But he broke something.

  6. Gwyn. Thank you. I am sorry for your needless loss. I hope you'll share this with your friends and keep this dialogue going.