A Bullying Story

16 04 2010

Let me tell you a story.  There is a very small, rural town where lives a shy eighth grade boy.  Despite his shyness, the boy has made a few good friends at school. And yet he still doesn’t quite fit in here.  Eighth grade is the beginning of high school in this particular town.  Some of the older kids in high school are intimidating to the young boy but for the most part they ignore him.  Save one young man.  It starts off as just annoying pestering, but soon the young man begins threatening the new eighth grader.  They share a French class together and this bully threatens to beat up the boy if he doesn’t share his answers.  Name-calling and heckling is common.  In the winter, he waits in front of the school for the eighth grader and says things like “Did you wash your face this morning?” and chases the boy and tries to give him a “face-wash” in the snow.  There is no right answer to that question.  The boy comes to dread his French class and he tries to arrive at school earlier than his tormenter to avoid the “face-wash” confrontation.  This goes on for a good part of the school year before the boy moves away to another town.

The twist to the story (that you may have already guessed)?  That eighth grade boy was me.  Most people are incredulous when I share this with them but if you knew me when I was younger you might not be so surprised.  Due to my shyness and subpar social skills I was often the target of ridicule and the butt of jokes in school, although only a couple of times did I feel that a fellow student was persistently bullying me.

I got bullying on my mind in light of the girl in the news recently who committed suicide after being persistently bullied by some of her peers.  I also had to confront some bullying issues at my job last week.  I get so frustrated at how cruel and unnecessary it is.  I know what it feels like and it sucks.  Nobody should be afraid to go to school.  Nobody should be pestered to the point at which they believe suicide is the only way to make it stop.

I have a theory about why bullying is so pervasive and how it sometimes goes too far.  Although sometimes it is obvious and blatant, I think bullying isn’t always easily identified as such.  I think a lot of bullying behavior is interpreted as good-natured fun by those who could intervene.  Who hasn’t engaged in some friendly name-calling or playground pursuit at some point?  Few people could see my terror when I was being chased by my face-washer, they just saw an activity that they might engage in with their own friends.  They didn’t see any harm in it.

The problem is that for some victims of bullying, the same poor social skills that make them a target also leave them unequipped to react appropriately to certain behaviors or activities that may be common among others.  Other kids in my situation might have interpreted the “face-wash” ritual as an uncomfortable inconvenience and would have simply laughed it off.  But I didn’t.  I didn’t know how.

I don’t want to go into why a person might feel it necessary to chase a younger boy and rub snow in his face every morning nor am I qualified to do so.  I don’t know enough about it and the reasons are probably too variable and complicated.  I am also aware that there are many more facets of bullying and I am intentionally not discussing them.  I think I’m just trying to draw attention to the fact that bullying is often defined less by its observable qualities and more by a person’s reaction to it.

So, the next time you engage in some friendly teasing of a classmate or coworker, take a moment to consider whether the target sees it as such.  And in the much more likely case that you observe someone else that lacks such critical thinking abilities targeting some unfortunate individual, please do speak up.  At the very least, take a moment to reassure the tormented; let them know you are aware that their treatment is unjust and uncalled for.  It might make all the difference.

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2 responses

18 04 2010
Flora

Thanks Pete. Bullying isn’t defined by the actions of the bully so much as the reaction of the person on the receiving end. If they think it is bullying than it is bullying at least to the person receiving it.

19 04 2010
Kira

I totally agree with this post. Thanks Peter!!!

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