Monday, October 11, 2010

Bullies and the Bullied

Lately I have been reading a lot about bullying. I have no experience of it. I was just reading that in high school,
Bigger kids take what they want and hurt who they want and get away with it
And all I can say is, really? I mean, seriously, is lunch money robbery a common occurrence in most of America? How much fighting really goes on in American schools?

Physical violence should not be tolerated in schools, but I don't have the impression that it is. At the schools my kids go to, people are suspended for pretty minor acts.

As for words, well, people insult each other, and yes it hurts. But I am not sure what adults can or should do about it. I was certainly taunted a fair amount, especially in middle school. I reveled in it. My friends and I responded to insults with our own system of counter taunts: when people called us weirdos, we said, "Yeah, well you're ordinary." (This after an extended debate over whether normal or ordinary was a worse insult.) Or, sometimes, "Thank you!" That we were despised by most of the student body was to us a badge of pride. Thinking it over, we probably greatly exaggerated the degree to which the rest of the school did despise us, because it made us feel more important. I remember those as good years, though. I was not taunted in high school, and that was for me a much more unhappy time.

I know that I didn't fit the profile of the bullied child very well. I was tall, and modestly athletic, and one of the top students in the school, certain by the 3rd grade that I was on my way to Stanford or Yale and a great if unspecified future. But I think I and the rest of the nerds at Lincoln Junior High responded to our would-be tormentors in the right way: we ignored them or fired back, as circumstances dictated, and banded together for mutual support. Insults are cruel, but to be too much hurt by them is weakness. What children need is sources of strength. We should shame bullies when we can, but since we cannot (I submit) cleanse the world of hurtful words, what we need to do is to help children cope with them.

12 comments:

David said...

"Insults are cruel, but to be too much hurt by them is weakness."

Ayn Rand lives!

ArEn said...

Them's fightin' words

John said...

I'm just trying to be realistic. Do you think we can remove cruelty from life? I don't. Therefore we have to be tough enough to endure it.

David said...

Why did those kids in Ohio kill themselves? Because they were weak. And we must cull the weak.

ArEn said...

I'd say there is systemic weakness. They killed themselves because they didn't have the support they needed to endure.

Carole67 said...

It was clear in your examples, John, that "we" kept coming up. You had support and a group; therein, I believe is the key to it being manageable.

There is nothing more deadly than feeling alone and the belief, that I and only I am different and unacceptable.

David said...

Support groups are necessary and helpful, but I also think it is good to take steps to curb bullying itself. The most important step is to get teachers and school admin to see reduction in bullying as one of their daily tasks. Bullying has, according to "studies," been reduced across the country, which I take to be a sign that the same steps should be used everywhere. Yes, you will get some stupid teachers or admin who will take it to the other extreme, like the Boston-area school that doesn't allow students to have best friends, but if we have to have a stupid extreme, I'd rather have that extreme than the other.

Bundle Brent said...

"I mean, seriously, is lunch money robbery a common occurrence in most of America? How much fighting really goes on in American schools?"

It's just my own experience, but my brother and I endured physical attacks, theft and vandalism of our property (bikes, books, backpacks, musical instruments, gym clothes, etc.), and one memorable little brat was always setting his German Shepherd on us at the bus stop - which ended up getting my brother admitted to the hospital on two occasions - and that was all before the 4th grade! We would have LOVED to just get some plain old insults. I think we were targeted because we moved around a lot and were therefore always "new kids."

Did it build character? Sure, but it sucked, and I'm pretty sure we could have built up plenty of character just mowing the lawn or shoveling snow or something.

When I read about attempts to quell bullying, I am pretty pessimistic. My folks tried to get the bullies' parents or the school to do something about bullying behavior, but nothing meaningful ever came of their attempts. Kids aren't supervised 100% of the time, and that would be almost as oppressive as the bullying in any case.

Support groups? Well, I guess it couldn't hurt.

David said...

I suppose in some bullying could build character, but in others it will simply build suppressed rage, which will come out either in the form of self-hatred or of bullying still weaker persons (eg., one's own children, spouse, etc.), as well as paranoia, alcoholism, etc.

I think part of the movement against bullying has to do with America's ongoing, centuries-long democratization. Persons who in other times and places would have simply endured in misery and self-censorship, drowning their sorrows in drink or whatever, now speak out, and believe it is their right to do so.

Incidentally, I for one was not much the object of serious bullying, and of virtually none after about the sixth grade.

David said...

Did you notice how we all got together and piled on John like that? That was fun. Let's find someone else and do it again. Like that weird kid in math class . . .

MLB said...

http://www.danoah.com/2010/10/memoirs-of-bullied-kid.html

John said...

No problem. I'm tough, and I can take it.