Bullies. Not a fan. No, sir -- don’t got a bit of use for ‘em. As a mother who watched both of her kids go through junior high, I have to say it seems as though that middle school/ junior high is where most bullies are hiding. In plain sight. In huddled packs in the quad and against hall walls.
There are a lot of theories about what goes into the creation of a bully. One of my favorites involves creepy alpha waves that infiltrate school campuses turning some kids instantly into foul little miscreants and their pals into legions of zombie-like followers.
Truth is bullies are made slowly, over a period of time by a variety of factors on the rotisserie of life. And once made, it’s hard to un-train a bully. Schools have instituted a zero tolerance / no bully zone on campuses across America and entire programs are now dedicated to teaching young people how to deal with bullies… in person and on the internet. As a nation, we are in the middle of a crisis, trying to figure out how to deal with these monsters. So, maybe the zombie analogy isn’t so crazy.
Working on a children’s book that deals with bullying, I’ve done a lot of research on the subject and I was surprised by how much things have changed on how to deal with bullying since I was a kid. Where once-upon-a-time youngsters were taught to “turn the other cheek” and walk away from a bully, the newer school of thought is not nearly so cut and dry. Mostly because there are so many different types now. It feels wrong to say that bullies have evolved, but it’s sort of true. Wedgies and swirlies are a thing of the past (and whodathunk we’d miss ‘em?) now that kids use technology to intimidate and torment their victims. There is almost a Salem Witch Trial mentality to the bullying of today. It is not enough for a small group to pester their chosen target, the goal now is to debase, devalue and decimate on a much larger scale – with a wide viewing audience. Taunts of “up your nose with a rubber hose” have been replaced with such evil, hateful statements, that I won’t replicate them here, because I choose not to feed the machine, but you need only lurk around the many social platforms on the internet to read the nasty stuff young people post.
We don’t talk as much about the grown-up version of the bully, but they’re out there. They are just given more sophisticated names after the age of consent: abusive personality, wife-beater, control freak, anti-social, narcissist, etc… but even with a psychological identification tag hanging from their ear -- a bully by any other name is still a bully.
Not too long ago, I got to go head-to-head with a bully and had to make a decision. Turn the other cheek or stand on my own two feet? As I stood there, being publicly berated and belittled – I realized I could not, should not and would not walk away. Knowing that the situation had the potential to go in a handful of directions, I decided to let Mister My Way or the Highway spew out his venom first (and I don’t use “spew” lightly here, as there was spittle involved), knowing that a shook soda bottle eventually goes flat and I’d have my say. When I asked for permission to speak, I was told that nothing I would have to say could be of any consequence or importance (only in way fewer, snarkier words). I spoke anyway, deciding that he needed to hear what I had to say as much as I needed to say it. At that moment, it wasn’t just about me anymore. It was about all of the other people that I was certain never had a chance or the temerity to tell this man what needed to be said. Only when I was finished, did I turn the other cheek and walk away.
Not sure if this particular bully can be retrained to go back into the wild and harm none. But, I’d like to think that if more people stood up to him (and others like him), he might begin to relate a bit more diplomatically and democratically, given the opportunity. And, if not? Well, then… don’t got a bit of use for him. No, sir.