I usually keep CNN up as I’m working, just to see what’s going on in the world, and to browse idly whenever I need a break or pause to think about something. Yesterday, I stumbled across this article about bullying. This one had a sad ending, though: the 11 year old apparently felt so trapped and downtrodden by the bullying that he decided to commit suicide. At 11! Tragic.
I guess I was about the same age when I was bullied at school — perhaps a little younger. Although, thinking about it now, “bullied” seems too harsh of a term. Even in this article, it doesn’t really sound like bullying per se. When I think of bullying I think of being punched, hit or otherwise physically abused. I didn’t have any of that — I was verbally abused. It is very painful, so I guess my idea of “bullying” is outdated.
Anyway, the situation got so uncomfortable for me that I just broke down in tears one night with my mum, as I relayed to her how awful school had been recently. Anything I did, anything I tried to do, was mocked by a subset of my peers. I was afraid to do anything for fear of being singled out and rejected even more than I already was.
As is usually the case in these situations, I was an easy target. I was an outsider, being from England. I had a funny accent, wore different clothing and behaved strangely — “different” and “strange” being relative terms, meaning it was goldmine of material for bullies, but really not that unusual to the average person. I was shy too. I’ve always been shy, and of course being bullied didn’t help to change that in any way.
It’s funny, though, because I never considered ending my life. I was uncomfortable, at times humiliated, but death never crossed my mind. Something must have snapped for this boy. Some seed must have been planted in his mind. Because for me, it just felt like part of life. This was the way it went, and I had to deal with it the best I could.
The bullying for me tapered off when we left Ohio and moved back to England. There’s something about being put on the same level with uniforms, along with a strict educational curriculum, that leaves less room for the hijinks of bullying. That’s not to say such a thing doesn’t exist in England — far from it. There were times I was bullied there too. But I think maybe the kids outgrew it faster over there. Or maybe it was just the school I went to.
Anyway, after that, bullying became a thing of the past. It left its mark on me, though. I will always be timid and self conscious. I will always second guess my actions, for fear of being ridiculed. But there is one thing I gained from the ordeal.
The best example I can give is when I had my internship at IBM in North Carolina. There was a group of four or five of us, and me along with another guy were the only guys in our group. As I’ve found to be normal, there was the occasional playful teasing between all of us — usually the girls teasing the guys. It became obvious, though, that while I took the teasing in stride and laughed with everyone else, it actually annoyed the other guy and let it get to him. Not in any major, meaningful way. But enough to be noticeable. It earned him the nickname The Sponge — and me, The Duck. (He “soaked up” the teasing like a sponge does to water, whereas I took it in stride, letting it roll off me like a duck.)
So while I am still shy and reserved, I have at least learned to take teasing in stride. I’m usually not quick enough to come up with any comebacks on the spot, but I at least know how to roll with the punches, so to speak, and not let things get to me. There are always exceptions of course — we’re only human, after all — but I like to think the bullying has given me an extra layer of skin to better handle those kinds of situations.
I’ve already written much more than I intended to, but I wanted to end this post by pointing out one particular section of the original article:
Allegations of such severe bullying surprises experts familiar with the school district. It’s anti-bullying program was considered exemplary and includes programs to raise awareness and a specially trained liaison. Students are even asked to sign a no-bullying pledge. But other parents told CNN they have complained about bullying as well.
I find this amusing, because I know there is nothing you can do to prevent bullying. You see, there is always this ringleader. Perhaps two. There is nothing that stops them, it is their nature to tease others. Sometimes it’s the only thing they’re good at. Ringleaders tend to attract partners in crime, those who tease and bully as well, but only as a way to fit in. Left to their own devices, they second guess bullying. And those “partners in crime” are helped by anti-bullying programs such as this. But the ringleaders? They will always find a way to thrive, and there is, unfortunately, not much you can do to stop it. At most, you can lessen it. If you’re lucky. In fact, if anything, programs like this validate to the bullys that what they’re doing is effective and has purpose, only reaffirming what they want to accomplish.
So while a program to try and lessen bullying is commendable, what should really be implemented is a program to help those who are being bullied. A way to vent and vocalize their issues, just like I did that night with my mum, when I could no longer accept what I was going through day after day. Perhaps with a support structure like that, the boy in this story wouldn’t have felt like death was his only escape.