I sent out a message on Twitter last week asking for people’s stories on bullying. I thought I was going to write another article on it. It now seems that I’m going to write a series of posts as one post just isn’t enough. For this first post, I’m simply going to show three stories that were emailed to me. They’re well written and have made the lessons pretty clear. There is some salty language, but bullying isn’t a pretty subject.
Once you’ve read these stories, feel free to contribute your own in the comments.
When I was younger I was a dancer and as a male dancer as you can imagine I was often the target of bullies.
In one instance I actually performed a dance in front of one of my elementary classes and I leaned up against the chalkboard which left a mark on my pants. The laughter from the class I can still remember today. As I got older the comments got harsher. I was called gay boy or twinkle toes – just a few I remember.
At the time I may not have realized how bad it was but looking back there were many times I thought of quitting just to be one of the guys. I am glad I stuck with it as it is something I am proud of now.
I was walking along a very quiet street in a good part of the city when I heard an argument. On the other side of the road there was a heavily built man arguing and shouting with what I assumed was his girlfriend, who was slightly built. He had her cornered in a doorway and as I looked he was getting violent, actually punching her in the stomach repeatedly.
I was very hesitant as he was a lot bigger than me, but I had to go to help. Unfortunately they were up several steps above me so I was at even more of a disadvantage, and didn’t see how I could do much against the big man’s continuing violence. But as I got within a few yards I shouted, rather quietly, ‘Oy, what are you doing?’ To my amazement the man looked up and immediately ran off.
I went up to the young woman who was badly winded, and asked her if she was okay. Again it didn’t go how I expected. I wasn’t thanked – she sarcastically asked whether I though she looked okay. Then her friend opened the front door – she must have run there to escape and rang the doorbell – and was faced with me and her collapsed friend, which didn’t look good!
So I left, knowing she was safe, and smarting just a little myself, but also feeling guilty for not having overcome my fear and jumped in a few seconds earlier, given how easy it turned out to be to end the savage violence.
I had a power over that brutal bully, whose fear seemed even greater than mine. Perhaps that’s not uncommon.
“Hi, this is Andy Mallory, you know, from Prinderton?”
Andy was the last guy I would have expected to hear on the other end of the phone line. I hadn’t talked to him since we both graduated Prinderton Prep, forty years ago. We were roommates during our senior year.
Andy was a strange guy. I guess I was a strange guy too. Not that we were all that strange, maybe a bit more naive that other boys, maybe not as aloof. Aloof was big at Prenderton during our time.
“Hey, do you remember John Tevanian and Roger Stimpy?” asked Andy.
“Can’t say that I do. It’s been forty years and I’m losing my memory.”
Being only a little bit strange at Prenderton could mean big trouble. If your gait was not the normal Prenderton gait, if you were the only one that didn’t get the latest slang. If you couldn’t fight or do sports, or if you never tried to flaunt authority, you were in for it. Sometimes it was a quick insult, sometimes more extended verbal torment, always humiliating, always in public, and always getting worse with time. Sometimes it was short sheeting, messing up your desk, stealing something from you, grabbing your books. Sometimes you would harvest a quick punch, or find yourself flat on your back. Sometimes you were just left out.
“I can’t believe it. Don’t you remember how miserable they made life for us at Prenderton?”
“Gee, I remember life being made miserable, but I don’t remember any of the guys who made the misery. Strange.”
Who do I remember? I remember Andy, and a couple of other close friends, most of whom, like Andy and I, were a bit strange. I also remember some other guys. John Edgerton was a crack lacrosse player. Andy Phipps led the glee club and started a jazz band. Henry Barnes was captain of the football team.
“I’d really like to know how Roger feels now about all that.”
“About treating us like shit. I’d really like to know. Maybe I’ll talk to him at the reunion. He really ought to at least apologize.”
“For chrissake, Andy, it’s been forty years.”
“Some things you just don’t forget.”
So, why am I remembering Edgerton and Phipps and Barnes? Because they were heroes? Hey, there were a lot of heroes that I don’t remember.
“Do you remember Henry Barnes?”
“Wasn’t he some kind of jock? Never talked much with him. You know we weren’t exactly in his circle, were we? What about him?”
“I don’t know, I just …. Hey, what about Andy Phipps? John Edgerton?”
“Phipps, Phipps, …. No, doesn’t ring a bell. So why are you asking about these guys. They weren’t friends of ours.”
“I just remember them, that’s all. I don’t know quite why?”
Of course, I do know why. It was because they treated me like a human being.
“Edgerton, a lax guy, right? If I’d gotten any respect from any jock at Prinderton, I would have remembered it.”
“Actually, I did get respect from quite a few jocks. They’d say ‘Hi,’ to me. Sometimes talk to me in the buttroom. Loan me a pencil. Mainly didn’t treat me like crap.”
“And got your back when Tevanian was turning you into the proverbial grease spot?”
“Never did that. Neither did you. No one did.”
People just don’t stand up to bullies. Maybe they shouldn’t be expected to. It’s a high-risk venture with a lot to lose and little to gain. Bullies probably stay bullies until they grow up, no matter how you try to stop them.
“Like I could have backed down Tevanian? Give me a break.”
“Like Barnes could? Hey, he was a good guy. He did the right thing.”
The real problem with bullying is not getting your bones busted or even getting your feelings hurt. The real problem is that being treated like dirt, you begin to think of yourself as dirt. The real problem is getting into a state of permanent humiliation.
“Mike Barnes did nothing for you. You weren’t even on his radar screen.”
“Not true. I was on his radar screen. Maybe not a super-friend, but he knew I existed, and he was fairly nice to me.”
Bullies attract bullying. One guy starts in on some poor bastard and pretty soon it seems like everyone’s doing it. It’s a perfect recipe for sending the poor bastard into a cave. He’s thinking that if everyone is landing on him, it’s gotta be him, right? There’s got to be something wrong with him.
But what if just a few, maybe even one, well-respected guy doesn’t go along. What if this one well-respected guy just treats the poor bastard like he treats everyone else. Then the poor bastard thinks, “Gee, if I’m cool with Barnes and Phipps, I must be OK.” And maybe those who had been piling on notice that Barnes and Phipps aren’t in on the act and decide that piling on is not all that cool.
“You talk about him as if he was some kind of hero.”
Sometimes, when standing up for someone isn’t in the picture, standing beside him is enough.
“He was some kind of hero to me.”
“Are you going to tell him that at the reunion?”
“You know, I might just do that.”
“I’ll bet he won’t know what the hell you were talking about.”