Wednesday October 6th, 2010

The exercise:

Let's talk about: bullies.

It's been in the news lately and I read something this morning that injected it into my brainwaves, so I thought I'd try to give it some air and get it out here.

Fiction is still welcome, as always.


I've been grateful in the past for the internet not being around when I was in high school, mostly for the lack of distraction. I can't imagine how badly my grades would have suffered if things like YouTube and even Protagonize had been available at a time when I should have been studying for tests and doing homework.

I'm reasonably certain I would've been banned from using the computer on a quite regular basis.

But this idea of cyberbullying? It just takes my gratitude to a whole new level.

Every school has a collection of jerks that enjoy picking on the smaller, the weaker, the less popular. But, worst case, the picked on got to escape - either in the safety of their own home, or moving to another town, or just leaving for university after graduation.

But now? The internet can be accessed anywhere. It doesn't matter where you are, a Facebook comment, a blog post, a YouTube video can reach you. Combine that with the anonymity of this world wide web of ours and there's really no stopping it.

Kids can be incredibly cruel, often having absolutely no idea how much damage their words inflict. And they have so many more tools at their disposal these days.

It makes me worry about what my own kids might face one day.

I know the answer, in part, is to raise them to believe in themselves, to nurture a healthy self-confidence. But it's all so fragile, really. It doesn't take much to bring it all tumbling down.

Seeing these kids turning to suicide to escape their tormentors is deeply, chills me to the bone, terrifying.


g2 (la pianista irlandesa) said...

This is a scary thing to think about, especially thinking about the most recent national-attention case. To think: those guys--the victim, the two guys who pushed him over the edge--they're all my age. Any one of those guys could've easily been classmates. Folks in the dining hall. Floormates. Friends.

What do you even make of that?

Maybe it's just because of my nature, but I don't understand bullying. I get good-natured teasing (if I didn't then I wasn't raised by my family), but there's a difference between poking fun and deliberately trying to hurt someone. What's bad is when someone doesn't recognize that difference, or fuzzes over what the difference is.

I try to think of the reasons people get targeted; the general umbrella reason I can come up with is that the person falls under the "different" category. Think about it: in elementary school a kid gets teased for having a "funny" name, "goofy" glasses. Late elementary school into middle school tack on the additional accusations of being a "nerd" or a "dork"; maybe even economic situation becomes a point of teasing. By the end of middle school and all through high school most of the serious name and eyewear teasing is dropped, but then other, sometimes more serious, points come up: parents' income, ancestry, religion, orientation, level of education, the target's choice of friends.

I know for myself that, for the most part, I'm a confident person. I'm proud to be a geek/nerd, I'm proud to say I'm a fairly devout Catholic, I'm fully aware that my hair pigmentation is "a redish-orangeish", I know that I'm not the typical teenager transitioning from a small town to a college setting (for instance: I realized that I can name more radio shows that I enjoy on a semi-regular basis than I can TV shows). In short, I feel fairly comfortable in my own skin.

Unfortunately many people aren't, and because of their own discomfort, recognized or denied, people take advantage of that at others' expense.

And sometimes it's the ultimate expense.

g2 (la pianista irlandesa) said...

ps... off the top of my head I can name these radio shows I enjoy:
the shadow
fibber mcgee & molly
have gun, will travel
luxe radio theater
I'm sorry I'll read that again
the whistler
harry niles
prairie home companion
all things considered
wait wait don't tell me
car talk
the great gildersleeve
the lone ranger
gun smoke

and here, off the top of my head, are the tv shows I'll sometimes go out of my way to watch...
doctor who
big bang theory

there are probably more for both lists that I just can't think of, but you get the idea.

Samantha said...

Bullying seems to be getting worse and worse;but maybe I'm just seeing a different type of bullying as I get older. As a teenage girl, I see things more brutal than most would imagine. Girls are catty, vengeful, spiteful, and sometimes they lash out just to make themselves feel better.

Girls, they're mean in a different way than boys, and usually it is worse. Boys pick on each other and usually are over it immediately after it happens; girls say harsh things that are often taken to heart. Girls my age (seventeen) seem to want to genuinely hurt each other.

I have seen far too many beautiful, nice girls lose themselves to anorexia, bulimia, depression, and suicide because of other insecure, spiteful girls. It sickens me to know that people are capable of being so cruel to other human beings.

Marc, g2, great reflections.

Marc, I don't think you'll have much to worry about. I think you will be a great parent.

I understand about youtube and protagonize. I'm neglecting an essay as I type. :)

g2, you're right, people are often bullied because of differences, usually ones that the bully is uneducated about. For instance: a guy in my school said he hated Muslims for building a synagogue near Ground Zero. I could do nothing but walk away. :)

Greg said...

Sorry, short of time today, but it looks like you've generated some interesting discussion Marc!


"We have a problem with bullying," said Dr. Septopus. He, Sylvestra, the Green Lightbulb and Judge Oops were sat around the newly installed annular conference table. Sylvestra looked up in surprise from the magazine she'd been reading.
"Bullying? But we're all villains, surely bullying is part and parcel of it all?"
"Bully for you!" said the Green Lightbulb, causing everyone to look at him with slight trepidation. He'd been rather excitable of late.
When it was clear he wasn't going to say anything else, Dr. Septopus clacked his beak and continued.
"You are, of course, right Sylvestra," he said, ignoring the sharp intake of breath from the Green Lightbulb. "And that's the problem. There is no bullying going on here. I have cases of murder, backstabbing, treachery, theft, attempted assassination, actual assassination, resurrection, reification --" he spared a glance for the teapot that had previously been Bad Kitty, "and irradiation. But no bullying."
"Does it matter?" said the Green Lightbulb.
"Yes." Dr. Septopus sighed so sadly that Judge Oops reached out a hand to comfort him and fell off his chair. "Yes. We're being audited next week. So go out there and bully someone. Anyone. In front of a security camera, please."
"What security cameras?" said Sylvestra, her words menacing.
"Oh, I might have missed breaches of privacy off that list...."

Zhongming said...

Marc – I share the sentiments of yours. It’s difficult for parents to discover and fully understand their kids. Early discovery and resolve of ill and unhealthy behavior might be helpful though.

g2 – unfortunately things like that do happen. I think it is really part of karma and the nature of the person. Sometimes it’s hard to tell especially we have no idea what they are going through. That’s what I feel.

Samantha – aw, it’s sad to hear about your encounter. But then it’s part of life. It is what makes every individual special in some way, I think.

Greg – That’s some interesting conversation between them :)


I have always detested people who go after the weaklings. But then sometimes I wonder. They do make me stronger. As there is a quote – "Whatever that does not destroy me makes me stronger!”

If you really think about it you’ll know why I belong to the introvert group throughout my teenage. The thoughts of constantly being pushed around are great enough to have depression. Not to mention the rest of the contributing attributes like low-self esteem, low self-confidence. It just hurts me but I have learnt to let go.

I consider myself someone with high level of tolerance, and I have to thank those bullies for showing me those stuns.

Blame them? Not a single bit, not even close to hatred. During teenage times, that was nothing but just being childish.

Most of them were bored; they had no other ways to express themselves. What they actually wanted is just overwhelming power over someone and weaklings are the easiest pry and target in their eyes.

They wanted to show what they can do. They think it’s cool. They never knew that the slightest word could invoke the most damage that it could possibly do.

My views about them after I became an adult are of much different opinion. It simply won’t do the trick if you let them abuse you. Knowing that these bullies are out of their mind, I had to learn how to be a bad guy.

The good thing about my childhood is that my parents injected something called “compassion” inside of my world. I was taught to be kind to all people. And for that built-in mechanism, sometimes I don’t dare to raise a revolt even I knew I was right somehow.

Well, it really didn’t matter at all – it’s all in the past and I’m glad it is :)

Heather said...

I will not pull out my soap box. I will not. I will not. I will not! Oh, but it is so hard not to do on this particular subject. Perhaps just a short summation then?

I find it incredibly sad that I feel a need to teach my children about bullying: what to do if they are being bullied AND how to not be the bully. As much as I love them, they have the potential to fall on either side of the line. They are only 3 and 5 years of age. But if it is not ingrained into their fibers, I don't think they will stand a chance in making the right choices as youth.

Marc- I quite agree with you.
G2 and Samantha- I wish I could tell you it ends after highschool. It doesn't; it just is done in a quieter, more refined manner.
Zhongming- The world needs more compassion. So glad you have claimed some for yourself. I hope you continue to nurture it. As far as bullies, I think there are many other things they can (and should) do. For starters, they should take a look at their own self-esteem and confidence. But enough of the soap box! I promise it won't be slid out any further.
Greg- It was a good piece. Not quite the same direction others took it, but it worked well considering the cast. Now, who is Bad Kitty and where did she come from?

I sat in math class scrunched down in the desk, my arms pulled tightly against my sides and my eyes diverted to the numbers littered across the worksheet. Quietly I read the numbers littered across the page and pretended to understand. Raising my hand to ask for help would be out of the question. Taking up less physical space meant that my presence would be noticed that much less.

Mr. Lindon called my name. I looked up, alarmed by the attention he inadvertently cast on me, and stumbled through giving a cohesive answer. "Correct," he said, "if we were on that question. Try number 13, not number 3." I heard Leslie whisper something behind me, probably to Frank. I took a deep breath and tried to focus on number 13. Then came the giggles, slowly spreading around the room.

I felt my eyes become moist. Shakily I started to answer number 13. Mr. Lindon interrupted to tell the class to quiet down. I began again. "The hypotenuse of the triangle would be...." I stopped cold. The whole class was laughing without restraint. Leslie had blurted something out and I was pretending not hear it, just as Mr. Lindon was doing.

It wasn't true. I knew that, but knowing the truth didn't make me feel any better. The truth was much darker and scarier. How could I possibly explain to them that last night I'd sat behind my bedroom door distracting my sisters from crying while listening to my mother begging for mercy from the beating? How could I tell them that the water had been shut off for three weeks and my aunt only allowed us to shower at her house on the weekends when my father would disappear? That it was unlikely it would be turned back on in the foreseeable future? How could the teachers not notice that things were terribly wrong even though I managed to get good grades? School was suppose to be my escape from the poverty and abuse, not an unhappy addition.

summerfield said...

Although I have not been a victim of bullying when I was young, I did witness some bullying at grade school. When I was 10, I had to fight a girl who was a lot bigger than me. She didn’t bully me or anything but we had to fight because the bullies made us fight.

There was a boy who, because of severe poverty, was so shy and never socialized with the rest of the class. The big boys pushed him, teased him, threw stones at him, took his books or his snack. He wouldn’t fight back and it made him just keep to himself. One day, I had enough, so I told the big boys to stop it and leave the poor boy alone. They turned to me and started to tease me, that maybe I was in love with this boy. The teasing just made my ear burn and I told them that their mothers were “whores”. Ah, that ticked them right off. One boy, the tallest and meanest, pushed me. So I told him that his mother is the mother of all whores. I could see his eyes turning red, as well as his face. He was about to strike at me when one of the teachers saw him, castigated him for “fighting with a girl”.

At recess, the group was waiting for me on the playground and told me that after class, I was to fight this girl. The girl was a lot taller than me and skinny. I knew she was a sickly child as she suffered from asthma. But that day, she was kind of feisty and told me she was going to pulverize my whole body. That girl was also one of the children that the group of mean boys constantly bullied. She was told that if she were to fight me, they would not bother her anymore. I suppose she saw that as an opportunity to get rid of those boys for good.

Of course, I was afraid to fight. The only person I can beat perhaps was my older brother who bullied me at home (I never understood why he bullied me when he knew I always outfight him; his only advantage was that he would tell our father that I fought with him and that always gave my father the opportunity to beat me up.). But the thought of actually fighting someone terrified me. But even though I saw the fire in that girl’s eyes, what terrified me more was coming home with bruises, or if my parents would find out.

I took another route going home that day but the meanies probably guessed that that was my plan so they waited for me about three blocks from the school. The girl, Gloria, called me names and swore and cursed at me. I could see that the words coming out of her mouth seemed new to her, too. I walked past them but one of the boys pushed me back and called me a coward. I kicked him in the leg but before he could do anything, Gloria pulled my hair and hit my back and shoulders with her fists. Because I was a lot shorter, I could only reach her chest and that was were most of my punches landed. At some point we were rolling on the dirt until an old man, the ice cream vendor, came and yelled at us to stop. I stopped punching, but Gloria kept on hitting me, even when the old man was pulling her away.

For some reasons, I didn't end up with any bruise in my face, although I had a few bruises in my arms and back. My parents never knew about the fight. Gloria missed class for a week, and for a while I worried that she might have gotten sick and would die because of me. I prayed so hard that she won't die and when she came back to school, she mostly kept to herself. The bad boys seemed to have been tempered and stopped bothering the other students, at least not whenever I was around. From then on, I sort of became a "go to" whenever someone got bullied. So in some ways, I bullied the bullies.

Marc said...

g2 - thanks for putting things even more in perspective for me.

And I think you're bang on - it's the danger of being different.

Samantha - when I was in high school I'd have never believed that, but in the years since I've seen exactly what you're talking about far too often.

Plus I've watched a few girl's field hockey games and seen how nasty they can get!

Greg - thanks for lightening the mood a little :)

Zhongming - I hope that your compassion spreads like an infection to those around you, and continues to spread until the whole world is covered in it.

Heather - that's a great bit of writing that really captures the emotions of being bullied.

Summerfield - thanks for sharing that story. You have to wonder what was going through their heads through all of that - were they enjoying themselves or just hiding from their own shortcomings, glad they weren't the ones being picked on?

Madness, all of it, really.

Jackerbie said...

yah, i just wrote an entire blog post on this topic. it makes me so sad, angry, frustrated, and thankful that i haven't had a comparable experience.

Marc said...

Jack - yeah, I read that. Good for you for actually doing something about it. I hope it's an inspiring day.