After speaking to seventh and eighth grade kids in a small school, a young girl waited until everyone left the cafeteria before meeting with me. She was encouraged to approach by a comforting teacher that stood by her side. This was my favorite moment of the day. The young girl approached with a shy but very bright smile. Her eyes looked away is if to seem embarrassed by her question.
“Go ahead,” encouraged the teacher.
One of the things I mention in my discussions and one of things I think I’ll focus more on is what I do now instead of what I did before. Rather than discuss the problems of different social illnesses and how they affected me, I think I’d like to change my approach once more and spend more of my lectures on solution. However, in order to qualify and open the eyes of the students, I have to explain where I came from in order for them to understand where I am now.
In this particular discussion, I talked about writing. I talked about the way writing has changed me and my life. And for me, journaling is not only therapeutic, but in the worst of times when all I had was a blank sheet of paper and a pen, writing was the only way I could stop the thoughts from spinning around in my head.
The young girl wanted to know about the subject I chose to write about. She wanted something to read. I asked what she would like to read about most.
“About bullies,” she told me, “And how to get away from them.”
It amazes me how bullies go on the way they do. It amazes me how someone could bully a girl so sweet and friendly. She is beautiful. She is exactly what a young girl is supposed to be and her smile is nothing short of contagious. She is wonderful. More importantly, I assume she has either been bullied or seen too much of what bullying does.
This girl is special. And I say she is special because within one minute of conversation and within one brief glimpse of this young girl and her big white smile; I say she is special because I’ve never met someone so eager to love and feel happy.
I started to wonder why kids bully each other. Adults bully each other too. But why does this happen? Who benefits? Where is the justice? And where is the victory? Then I realized something. Perhaps this is exactly what this girl was asking for. Maybe she was wondering the same thing.
Bully: [buh-lee] noun
An overbearing, aggressive person who intimidates someone smaller or weaker through either physical or emotional means.
So what does this mean?
If you ask me, I call bullying an unfortunate outlet for someone who is insecure, angry, picked on, and someone who themselves are that terribly miserable that they have to impose their misery on others. Since they’re afraid, they want you to be afraid. Since they’ve been picked on, beaten, put down, or robbed in some way, they want to do the same thing to you.
Back when I was a little kid in maybe second grade, I remember going to the bus stop and waiting with all the other kids before going to school. This was in wintertime. We were fresh from a snow day so there was lots of snow on the ground. And of course, some of the older kids (the 6th graders) were throwing snowballs at us. And of course, I was one of the younger kids trying to return fire. I saw this as something that was supposed to be fun; however, the older kids saw this more as a military mission. They were not playing very fair and they were certainly not gentle when they threw snowballs. Eventually, the barrage stopped and the snowballs went to the ground. One of the 6th graders who I will name as Rusty was the main culprit here. His snowballs were the biggest and he threw them the hardest too.
Days prior to this, one of my teeth became loose. And of course, like any kid, I was excited and I wiggled this tooth back and forth to make it fall out. And lo and behold while standing at the bus stop, at last, my tooth fell out.
I was excited about this. I was happy the tooth fell and I was excited to go home and tell Mom that my tooth fell out. And she would have been happy to tell me about the tooth fairy and how the tooth fairy was going to come and put money under my pillow
I spit the tooth into my little mitten, —but I was careful to not let the tooth fall on the ground because a tooth like this means the world to a little kid who is about to have a visit from the tooth fairy.
I was excited enough and happy enough to share my story with the rest of the kids at the bus stop. I mentioned how the tooth fairy would come and then my story was interrupted by a loud and mean sound of laughter. This was Rusty.
Rusty had long orange hair (hence the nickname). He had braces and a silvery, wiry smile. He was much bigger and chubbier than anyone else I knew, —he was especially much bigger than me or anyone else at the bus stop.
As soon as I mentioned the tooth fairy, Rusty started laughing at me, —calling me a stupid little kid. Rusty pointed at me. He pointed me out to everyone at the bus stop while laughing, “What a stupid kid!”
“There’s no such thing as a tooth fairy!”
I argued, “Yes there is!”
“Dumb kid,” laughed Rusty. “The tooth fairy is your Mom!”
I defended myself. “My mom isn’t the tooth fairy!”
“Okay stupid. I’ll tell you what. Don’t tell anyone else about your tooth. Don’t tell anyone and then when you go home, put the tooth under the pillow and see what happens.”
I took Rusty’s challenge. I was going to show him he was wrong for sure!
All day, I thought about what happened at the bus stop. I wished I never said anything. I wished I kept my happiness to myself. At least this way I would still have it. I regretted sharing my story at the bus stop. I regretted speaking and I wished I could have thrown bigger snowballs at Rusty. I wished I could have hurt him the same way he hurt me.
That night before bedtime, I followed through with Rusty’s challenge. I put the tooth underneath my pillow. All the while, I had visions of justice. I dreamt about justice and an extra special visit from the tooth fairy. I thought about the next morning and how I was going to prove Rusty was wrong, —and this time, it would be me laughing and this time it would be Rusty wishing he had never opened his mouth.
Next morning, I woke up. I shot up quickly and happy to defy the Rusty, “The bus stop bully.”
But sadly, when I reached beneath my pillow, —there it was. My tooth was still there, exactly where I left it.
I recall placing the little tooth in the palm of my hand. I rolled it around like a small, lifeless and meaningless piece of bone. There didn’t seem to be anything wrong with the tooth. It certainly looked worthy enough for the tooth fairy to come, —if there was such a thing. But there wasn’t such a thing. There was only a little boy that was robbed of his excitement.
And that’s what bullies do. They steal you from your excitement. I was happy to have my dream of the tooth fairy. I was fine to believe in something so pure. But why would someone like Rusty do something like this? Was it because of me? Was I really a stupid little kid?
The answer is no. I was not a stupid kid and there was absolutely nothing wrong with my tooth. Rest assured, there was something wrong with Rusty though. Rusty had a different family life. I never saw his father around. I’m not sure when Rusty believed in things like the tooth fairy or anything else like that, but whenever it was, I’m sure it was spoiled for him too. Rusty was so filled with disappointment that he chose to spread this by disappointing others. Put simply: Rusty had his life and because someone took away his spark; Rusty decided it was his job to take away mine.
This is my first recollection of ever being bullied. This is the first memory of my social awkwardness and anxiety. I was afraid to speak in crowds after this. I was afraid I wouldn’t be liked or I would always be the one they picked on. I was afraid I would be alone, singled out, bullied, and I was so afraid that I tried so hard to act as if none of this bothered me. But it did bother me . . .it bothered me a lot!
And what happened is I inherited Rusty’s anger. I inherited Rusty’s doubt and the way he saw the world. Going forward, I realize how bullying can be contagious. It’s a virus and it spreads. In schools, bullying is like an unfortunate torch that passes down from one grade to the grade below.
I was so afraid to be singled out that I made sure I would beat everyone else to the punch before anyone else could ever single me out first. More and more, I stored memories like this. And more and more, I tried to build an image that was safe enough for me to hide behind. This way, I would never feel like that stupid little kid in the back of the bus, crying because of a tooth, and wishing I never opened my mouth.
I was bullied. But I did my share as well. I bullied because I was hateful of being me. I bullied because I was uncomfortable while living in my own skin. I bullied because I was afraid no one would ever like me. I picked on kids that mirrored the way i felt about myself. And I hated them for this. I hated them for reminding me about my fears and my problems so I punished them for it.
I remember trying to be friendly with Rusty. I wanted to be his friend so he picked on other kids instead of me. And this worked (a little) but I still wanted to hit him with a snowball. And I still to this day wish I never shared the story about my tooth with him.
Bullies love to take away our smiles. They love to take away our dreams. They love to do this because since they have no joy of their own; they want to make sure that we are not happy with ourselves. Bullies are not just limited to 6th graders. Bullying is something that happens at every age
So how do I beat bullying?
I realize my dreams and my smile is the most important thing in the world. I look through the smoke and mirrors and I see through the bully’s disguise. I understand their problems are not mine.
I had to learn that my value and my worth are very important things. Bullies want to take this. But they can only take what I give them.
In cases when I can avoid mean spirited people, I do. In cases when I can walk away, I walk. In cases when I can’t, I do my best to defend myself by realizing this is their problem and not mine. Out loud, I explain their problems are their problems and these things are not my fault. In cases where I am physically threatened, I do what I can to avoid confrontation. The best way to avoid bullies is not being around them but in many cases, this is unavoidable. Most importantly, I surround myself with good people. Even if my surrounding is only filled with one other person or just me myself and I, at least I am confident that I am in good company
I have talked with parents about this on several different occasions. Emotional empowerment and positive encouragement is extremely important. Our kids need someone to talk to. They don’t necessarily need us to fight their battles. First, they need us to listen. Then they need us to acknowledge their feelings. Then we support their feelings. And then we support a plan of defense. Every battle is always won through strategy and not brute force
The girl I met at my last classroom discussion is nothing short of beautiful. But someone somewhere is looking to take her beauty away because they feel that ugly.
But we won’t let them do that to her.
At least, I wont