Friday, October 8, 2010

Have you been a bully?

All these teen suicides tied to bullying from classmates and based on the young person's perceived sexuality, whether the teen was really gay or not... Day in, day out, these kids heard the most vile things possible to define them. Many of these teens suffered physical abuse as well. The pain of the Rutgers University student who committed suicide after his sexual encounter was filmed by classmates and broadcast online got to me in particular. That so many people delight in saying the most vile things they can think of to another person and engage in activity meant specifically to humiliate another person makes me lose my faith in humanity.

You don't think what the bullies said was that bad? It was just innocent teasing that everybody does? Okay -- go say it to your mother, your father, your spouse, your own child, or anyone else you love, and then get back to me with their reaction. If they laughed and said, "Oh, you are so funny!", then I stand corrected. I'm not talking about teasing or even very harsh criticisms -- I'm talking about saying something very personal about a human, with the speaker's intention being only to crush that person emotionally.

I have had some faith restored in humanity by the actions of so many high-profile people -- Daniel Radcliffe, Bette Midler, John Shore (a Christian blogger), Ellen DeGeneres, and Tim Gunn, to name but a few -- who are reaching out to gay teens to convince them that things do get better, that there is a lot of love and support out there from a variety of sources. And, ofcourse, Dan Savage's "It Gets Better" video campaign rocks more than I can put into words.

I could write a very long blog post about all the times I was bullied and threatened as a child, even though I wasn't gay, and repeat all the words that were used over those many years to tear me down as a child and as a young teen, as well as the physical pounding I took from a couple of other kids regularly. But instead, I'm going to talk about when I was a bully.

There was a group of neighborhood girls who bullied me in my pre-teen years. Individually, they were fun to hang out with, but get two or more of them together, and they became focused on making me cry. Each was a master at getting me to share the most intimate secrets one-on-one, which they would then use as a group to say the most vile things to me possible. There were days I saw two or more of them outside and I would stay in the house and watch TV, despite Mom calling, "Jayne? Have you seen so-and-so outside? You should go play!"

Elementary school was my sanctuary from the Mean Girls because they were in different classes from me and, for some reason, they were never interested in targeting me there, even at recess. But one day, in the fifth grade, it happened: our classes were all out on the playground for recess. And I saw the Mean Girls were targeting... someone else. Someone I didn't like either (not for anything personally about her -- she was just really annoying and whiny). For reasons I will never know, the Mean Girls invited me, their usual outside-of-school target, to join in.

For a moment, I was thrilled. I was being included! And if someone else was being targeted with the Mean Girls wrath, that meant it wasn't being focused on me! Maybe this was a turning point! Maybe I wouldn't be the target any more! Maybe I was now cool. So I joined in: we walked by the girl, coughing to show how much she was making us sick by being near us, and walked on. And everyone dissolved into laughter. Except me. I looked back and saw how incredibly hurt she was. I felt like crap. There was nothing fun about this. I walked to the swing set and started talking to others. The hyenas didn't notice me. I watched them walk by the girl again and again, coughing, talking and laughing. Yeah, I had stopped, but I didn't say anything to show them, or the girl, that I knew it was wrong.

I regret that day hugely. I bet that girl remembers that day. I bet it's burned into her memory. I'm so sorry for that.

In all these discussions about bullying, I think it's just as important to think about when YOU have been a bully, not just when you have been bullied. Why did you do it? Do you still do it?

And don't just talk to your kids about what to do if they are bullied; talk to them about why being a bully is wrong, what the consequences are of targeting someone for humiliation, and what they should do if they see someone being bullied.

1 comment:

  1. I can distinctly remember being a bully (not very proudly I must admit). I don't believe I do it at this time, but I think bullying in adults can be discreet and sneaky. Do you raise your voice to drown out others? Do you use body language intimidate? Subtle things that on the surface might not be considered bullying, are SO bullying. They stop open dialogue and convey only the ideas of a verbal minority.

    I do believe that I bullied as a youngster because I really didn't feel that great about myself and I wanted to be "admired". Strange that admiration comes to the bully from their peers. Children rarely stand up for the bullied, as they don't want to be identified with them. We as a country bully frequently, and ultimately our culture teaches us to attack if we are being attacked. There is no real focus on non-violent means to solve conflict, we just go get a bigger stick. If we can make someone appear small, or dumb, or different – we can ignore these inadequacies in ourselves, if only for a moment.