Search This Blog

Friday, April 18, 2008

Bullying has been on my mind lately

I think the universe is telling me to do a post about bullying.

A week ago my sign language teacher signed the Peter, Paul and Mary song, "Don't Laugh At Me" in class. It's about bullying. Also, Peter, Paul and Mary have initiated this campaign across the country to directly address the behavior they sing about. Cool beans, eh?!

Then David writes this AWESOME post about how he taught a group he was speaking to what a bully is. David, that is way good karma! Just a wonderful thing he did not only for his audience but for readers of his blog. Major catharsis.

So here is my experience with a couple of bullies. As it turns out I have first hand experience being bullied. I grew up with a bully in the form of an older sibling. She hit and intimidated me every chance she got starting when she was close to puberty. There was also a bully in our elementary school her name was Terry M. She would intimidate kids on the playground, take their lunch and their place to sit. She shoved and mocked and spread rumors and in general created a negative experience for whomever she was targeting at the time. She had a couple of tougher bigger girls she was friends with making a little terrible threesome. She was scary.

I actually only learned what a bully was when I finally stood up to my sister. She was beating the crap out of me and my parents said, "Take it outside." I refused always to hit her back because I was a pacifist. Not that I knew the word for it. But all I knew is that I didn't want to be someone like her who hit and was mean. I wanted to be the opposite of her. So when she hit me I didn't hit her back. But this time was a little different. She had me pinned down on the grass and was punching me in the chest. It hurt. It was hard to breath. And all of the sudden I had this moment of clarity. A calmness settled over me and it said, "You're going to have to hit her." I sighed inwardly, because I really didn't want to. On the other hand she was hurting me and it was getting even harder to breath. So I balled up my fist and aimed right at her face and connected with her lip and nose somehow all in one punch. She looked really surprised as the blood welled up on her lip and nose. I thought, "OK here it comes, she's going to go whale on me now!"

To my GREAT surprise, she did not go bizerk. Instead she started to cry and yelled, "Mom, Kathy hit me!" In that moment I learned what a bully was.

My parents punished me for that. I was grounded for one week. But I didn't care. I had this huge realization as if a weight had been lifted and my sister never engaged me the same way again. There were still the punches in the arm if I was ever stupid enough to walk to close to her. But she was wary and we never got into a fist fight again and I was grateful.

There is no good outcome for the bully either. Bullying me and others was the way she expressed her pain and fear. And there were fewer friends and happy moments for her, I think, than I experienced. It's not a good way to be for others or for yourself, being a bully.

Terry M., our elementary school bully, fared no better. By the time high school rolled around and she was no longer the biggest kid and I think one of her posse moved away. People were no longer scared of her. Her elevates status and dwindled. In the bigger pond of high school she was a much smaller fish. She couldn't bully anymore. In fact she was quite unpopular. In my town, people didn't move around much so most of the kids you started kindergarten with you also graduated high school with. And people remembered her unkind deeds. I would often see her in the halls alone. She was not in the college prep classes. I heard she ended up working at her parents mini golf for awhile. I don't think the bullying did her any favors in the long run.

If the world is ever going to be a better, safer place, especially for people with disabilities, it is critical for parents to not only talk to their kids about bullying but also not to allow it in the home. I think often bullying behavior is learned from a bullying parent or it can be learned from older kids if the parent is absent. It speaks of anger and rage and causes so much damage, especially these days when kids aren't duking it out with fists but guns. It is a much tougher job to be a parent who intervenes and is close to their kids hearts and minds than one who ignores the subtle hints of trouble. It takes constant effort and work. But in the long run and even in the immediate moment, it's worth it.

Have you ever been bullied?