I’m glad that there are anti-bullying measures being taken in schools, but we leave out the most important lesson.
“If speaking up seems too hard or not safe, walk away and stay away. Don’t fight back. Find an adult to stop the bullying on the spot.” From stopbullying.gov.
I saw the look on his face
The generation before me learned that if you are being bullied, learn to fight back. Kick the hell out of the bully and he will leave you alone. My generation learned that if you are being bullied, ask him to stop politely and he will see your good example, and stop. The generation after me got different advice, and now my daughter’s generation is getting still different advice.
I saw the look on his face. It wasn’t directed at me.
I have a big problem with statements that begin “People bully because -” or “People are bullied because -” or “This is what you should do -” or “Violence never works because -” or “Fighting back works because -” Depends on the bully. Depends on the victim. Depends on the surroundings. But I’m glad that people are at least talking about it. But something is missing.
I saw the look on his face. It brought me back to elementary school. But now I was 50. It wasn’t directed at me.
I also have a big problem with society trying to shove people in boxes. When my daughter was in pre-kindergarten, the anti-bullying programs made two boxes. Bullies and Victims. Which One Are You? By the time she was in Junior High it became three: Bullies. Victims. Bystanders. Which One Are You? And a lot of the education and grownup-led peer pressure was about what she should do as a Bystander. I can’t hate that completely. I learned a lot from a blog post about what to do if you see a Muslim woman being screamed at by a stranger on a bus or a train. But I still hate the boxes. I’ll tell you now, I was a Victim. Even at my age (50 is receding into the past too quickly) I find it hard to say that publicly. But I also took my turn as a Bystander. And sometimes as a Bully. Not as often. Not a particularly good one. But yeah. And a crucial thing is still missing.
I saw the look on his face. That look that conveys to the target, “You are garbage. You are not even worth the contempt I have for you. You are nothing.” It brought me back to elementary school. I had received that look. More than once. But now I was 50. It wasn’t directed at me.
So, I’m glad that there are these programs, and I hope they get better. I am disturbed that “Just punch him in the nose” is considered archaic, ignorant, and terrible advice. Sometimes it works. Sometimes, not all the time, but sometimes, the best course of action for Victims is to punch the bully in the nose, or kick him in the crotch, as hard as they possibly can. And if there are consequences, take them. And I’m not going to change that statement if the bully is a her. Or a them.
And sometimes the best course of action is not to hit back. To Ignore the bully. Or to tell the bully to stop. Or to talk, to understand where the Bully is coming from. Or to befriend the bully. Or to tell the teacher. (Or maybe try the pacifism I was taught when I was a kid, and is still found on anti-bullying websites. I’ve never seen that strategy work in any context, but the psychologists must have been basing it on something, right?)
But there is something important – something we all need to learn about bullying, and most of us have. Something you learned in school, no matter in which of the three boxes you spent the most of your time. You learned this from being bullied, watching others being bullied, or doing the bullying.
I saw the look on his face. That look that conveys to the target, “You are garbage. You are not even worth the contempt I have for you. You are nothing.” It brought me back to elementary school. I had received that look. More than once. Often. I was afraid to go to school. But now I was 50. It wasn’t directed at me.
He was a close friend. Still is. One of the kindest, most magnetic, most thoughtful friends I’ve had. I would not have believed it if I didn’t see it. I still find it hard to believe my own memory. That look on my friend’s face. It wasn’t directed at me.
This is not a world of Bullies, Victims, and Bystanders, with a rule book on how to deal with each. And that’s the lesson. That Bullies aren’t always the stocky dumb guy with giant arms in Calvin and Hobbs, or the wiry hyperactive ass with the horrible mocking laugh like in A Christmas Story, or the Queen of the pack of Mean Girls like Caroline in Sixteen Candles. Sometimes they are really good people, your good friend, your sister, your father, your beloved aunt, the police officer who lives next door and hangs out with you in the backyard some summer evenings.. Really good people, except when they aren’t.
And I don’t think this is a lesson that can be taught with a powerpoint slide. Because it is unbelievable until you see it. I remember getting that look in elementary school, pinned to the ground and being punched in the face, but the real lesson was after “recess”, when the same person raised his hand, gave a great answer, and joked around with his friends, most of the class.
That’s the lesson we all learned. When a bully isn’t bullying, they are just like you and me. (And you and me may very well be bullies too – when we’ve depersonalized and dehumanized our victim enough to be convinced its okay. No crime in being cruel to a libtard, or a Muslim, or a babykiller, or an anti-vax mom, or a TERF. Amiright?) I agree that we should do everything we can to prevent bullying in school. And I hope we continue to get better at it, offering more than generalizations. And when that happens – when nobody has to be afraid to go to school – where are children going to learn this lesson we all learned? Because its hard to believe it until we have seen it. We need to figure out how we are going to teach it.