This has been a blog-post-in-the-making for years now…but the fact that today, Monday, October 7th happens to be the official “Blue Shirt Day World Day of Bullying Prevention” seemed like the perfect opportunity to release my deep thoughts on bullying into the blogosphere.
I was bullied. Not because I was a “nerd,” or looked different or even because I was the one Jew in small rural town. My situation was one of those all-too-common overnight sensations: I went to 9th grade one day and discovered that most of my girlfriends suddenly hated me. And this group-decision didn’t just result in a little attitude and cold-shouldering…no, it materialized in full-fledged psychological warfare. Shit was thrown at me in the classroom, prank calls were constantly made to my house and one very titillating rumor concerning my use of a large cucumber was viciously spread (so, having barely kissed a boy, this 13-year-old was now universally known as “cuke” – nice).
Obviously, I was hurt. But more than anything, I remember just being totally mystified by the whole thing. Nothing had actually happened to cause the situation – no silly tiff with a friend over a boy or anything – but all of a sudden it was at level 11…and everyone was in on it. Even those who didn’t actively harass me were obviously under the influence of the bullies. No one at school stood up for me. Teachers never intervened at what was happening right under their noses (it was a very small school with a very low student-to-teacher ratio, so I’m sure they noticed). I don’t even think my parents were totally aware of what was going on (maybe they thought the prank callers were seriously looking for pickled produce).
Luckily, I still had my good friend Tracy (who had already graduated to high school – my school went from K-9th grade), and she became my sole after-school companion for the remainder of the school year. I credit this friendship, plus my strangely strong sense of self-worth, that got me through the ordeal. How else can I explain why I didn’t break down, why my grades didn’t slip and I still went to school every day? Why I went on to enjoy camp that summer and quickly find a whole new group of friends at high school that fall? Why I didn’t become a sobering statistic?
I’m not saying the experience had absolutely NO negative impact on me. While making new friends has always been easy for me, it still takes a while for me to completely let people in and be truly close. And when someone wrongs me, it takes a LONG time for the self-pitying anger to go away. Because there is never that movie-worthy closure – no karma or retribution equal to the first strike. And as satisfying as it would be to publicly out these girls (Googleable-full-names-and-all) throughout the internet, or at least rant about what human waste they were/probably still are, it won’t really accomplish anything. They are too busy living their podunk small town lives, working at the DMV, going to one of their illegitimate kid’s soccer games, eating cheese doodles. They aren’t thinking about what they did. There is no glimmer of remorse every time the media reports on the latest bullying-induced teen suicide. People who treat others like shit don’t feel bad about it. That’s why they’re able to do it in the first place and then just brush it off as being “in the past.” They are never going to “pay” for what they did, so it’s better to just move on and live your own life.
And truth be told, having experienced this universal truth first-hand has had more positive effects on me than negative ones. I’m quick to spot bullies and deal with them accordingly. In my personal life, that results in me not putting up with BS from anyone. This may sound like a negative, but I’ve gotten much better over the years with politely letting people know that the way they’re acting towards me is unacceptable. Standing up for oneself and possibly pissing someone off because of it is a whole lot better in the long run than enabling that person to continue walking all over you! And most importantly, having personally been treated badly has made me extremely sensitive to how I treat others, and how others treat others. Having compassion and empathy are more important to me than getting ahead/being right/etc at the expense of another.
Inspiring, right? Also, check out this interesting perspective on bullying from Purpose Fairy, and if all else fails – Is Nature a Cure for Bullying?
Carrie photo from STL Today