“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
One day, in second grade, I was picked on while riding the school bus. I usually don’t remember details back that far, but I’m confident that this was the first time I was “bullied.” A girl, who happened to live in the low income housing project up the street, was making fun of the plastic halloween necklace I was wearing. She called it cheap and ugly, and probably said a few other things that I don’t remember but were obviously a pretty big deal when you’re 8. I was on the verge of tears and replied, “So what, my dad just died and we can’t afford other jewelry!” It wasn’t really true. I mean, I didn’t know whether or not it was true at the time… I just said it to get the bitch off my back. The next day, she got on the school bus and had scrounged together enough (fake?) gold pieces to make me a “real” apology necklace.
When I was a little older, I played Little League softball. We all know that my sister was better than me, a point which would be made clear to me when I was a senior in high school by the bully town lawyer who thought it appropriate to write me a letter saying so. Nice. My sister always made the All-Star team, and so I made it by default. The “the younger one has to make the team, too, because she isn’t old enough to be left home alone while we travel across country so let’s make it easier on her mom” kind of default. (Whatever, I pinch hit in the Softball World Series and got on base, so STFU!) Anyway, my other point being, I ended up on a team with 13 other girls who, for whatever reason, didn’t like me much. We’d travel out of state and stay in hotels, and no one would really invite me to be involved in anything. One of them even yelled at me in the outfield during warm-ups that I should just quit because no one wanted me there anyway. Yep, she was a real bitch and to this day, I hear she’s a loser and hasn’t changed much. Isn’t it always that way with the mean girls?
When I was in middle school, I played sports but didn’t really fit in with the athletic crowd. Most of my real friends didn’t play sports, so I was kind of a lone duck. I tried to fit in, and people weren’t usually mean. But, apparently, one day I was on the other end of the bully spectrum. I don’t remember it, but the incident came back to me a few years ago in a Facebook message after sending someone I thought was a friend (okay, maybe friend is too strong – but I certainly didn’t see him as my enemy) a friend request… his response to me read: “when i think of people from the past, especially from school, i am usually reminded of one specific event when that person did something particular that has stuck with me. with you it was at burger king and you were with some people who i thought were above your social standing. you gave me a snarky look and asked “why did you bring your BAG to burger king”? you may have even rolled your eyes. congratulations.” I don’t remember this, but apparently he did. I saved this message, poor gramma and all, because I’m pretty sure from this point forward I will always remember it with a little pang of guilt.
When I was in middle/high school, there was an overweight kid that used to ride our school bus. We’ll call him Paul. Paul was a really big guy, and if I’m being quite honest, he didn’t smell all that great. He had his own assigned seat because no one else would let him sit with them. Another kid that also rode our bus, we’ll call him Neil because that’s his real name and I don’t believe in protecting the identity of assholes, used to make fun of him. Persistently. And loudly, clear across the bus from back to front. “Oh, watch out the bus might tip over when Paul gets on!” “What’s that smell, it must be Paul in seat 4.” “It’s not an earthquake guys, it’s just Paul!” “Paul, why are you so fat? Why are you so fucking fat?” The bus driver would just chuckle along, doing nothing to protect the kid being picked on. All the times I saw Paul silent cry or get angry, I never once stood up to that asshole – and that is one of my biggest regrets in life.
As an adult at my former job, I was bullied on a daily basis by my boss. My ideas were her good credit, and anything I said to criticize her leadership was hung over my head as insubordination. That might not be bullying as much as just general suckage, but apples/oranges/whatever. Team members were yelled at and talked down to in front of peers. And did you know that having an anxiety attack is equal to a “tantrum” and that you can be docked in a performance review for taking maternity leave? Oh wait, that’s right, that’s NOT legal. This is why I no longer work for said bully.
And recently, I attempted to come to defense of a friend. Actually, I’m almost always the first one to jump to defend people – especially my friends – because I don’t like to see people get picked on and hurt. Some might say that made me the bully. Oh well, if I’m going to go down looking like an asshole, I guess it’s good to go down in defense of another friend for something I believe is unjust. It’s a good enough hill to die on, to me.
Anyway, my point to all of this… Bullies exist throughout our entire lives, and sometimes we may even become one, albeit accidentally. Though I don’t feel like I ever intended – in childhood or adulthood – to be mean-spirited, I’ve clearly been on both sides of the spectrum. My biggest fear for Charlie is that, some day, he’s going to get bullied. Because he will. (And it scares me that the bullies of today are of a much stronger caliber than in my school-aged generation.) Some day, someone is going to say something to him that he’ll carry for 20 years and explode back in a Facebook message or on his blog. They’ll say something that will dim that little light inside of him, the sparkle that I see that makes him fearless and have no self-doubt. About his halloween attire or maybe his appearance. Or his boss is going to call him an idiot in front of his coworkers. Or worse, he’ll do any of that to someone else.
I want my child(ren) to grow up with firm opinions and no fear in sharing them. I also want them to have tact and consideration for others’ feelings. I want them to be firm in their beliefs and stand up for other people who are being hurt, in the moment it’s happening. For god’s sake, stand up for them. I want them to not have to rip other people apart to make themselves feel better, or kick someone when they’re down. I want them to realize that when they’re on the receiving end, there’s something wrong with the bully NOT them. And to be strong enough to stand up for themselves. Have thick skin.
And if they find themselves in the bully’s shoes, I hope that they feel guilt for whatever pain they cause so they don’t ever do it again. And discover whatever it was that they were missing within themselves, that made them lash out at another person in the first place.
I’m not sure this world will ever exist without bullies. I guess it’s good that it doesn’t, considering I technically was one once. Or, I guess to some, I am one? Either way, I would prefer to never have had to be on either side. Because bullying shouldn’t be an acceptable way to communicate or interact. I mean, wouldn’t it be great to not have to walk through life feeling the judgement of others? And being beat down for being different or strong-willed or weak or smart or awkward? And to feel strong enough within ourselves that we simply don’t allow others to tear us down? Maybe, some day. I can hope for that for my children anyway. And I guess it’s never too late to even work toward it for myself.