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The Bullied and the Bullies

The Bullied and the Bullies

I was occasionally bullied as a child. It was never for very long, and it was never particularly bad. But I remember very well the dread I felt having to go to school when it was going on. I remember actively adjusting my routine to avoid certain places at certain times, and even that wasn’t always effective. It was stressful.

Bullying gets a lot more attention now than it did during my childhood, and that’s a good thing. We have resources like today. I think the attitude when I was young was yeah, it’s not a nice thing, but the world isn’t always a nice place either, and kids will be kids, and tough it out. Indeed, I’d have probably said something like that myself as recently as ten years ago.

One big difference today, of course, is the potential ubiquity of bullying. I didn’t like dealing with it at school, and sometimes I had to avoid some parts of the neighborhood. But when my bike was in the garage and I was in my bedroom, I was safe from it. With social media and texting, that’s not necessarily the case anymore — and it can be a lot easier to assemble a mob. The numbers are there, and the screen and keyboard can dehumanize the whole thing just enough for even hesitant antagonists to pile on.

Bullying is reliably draining, even for kids with objectively good lives. I had a baseline level of static from my parents getting divorced, but I had a lot going for me too. I made friends easily. We weren’t wealthy, but I had enough to eat, enough to wear, and nice things to play with. Being bullied was something I had to manage, but I could manage it because most of the time, everything else in my life was fine. If I’d not brought a strong hand to the table to begin with, it could have been much worse for me.

…and the Bully

Oh, and guess what else? I also bullied others. I didn’t do it a whole lot, but I’m sure I did it enough to hurt. That I can remember, I bullied four different children at various times. I had friends with whom I was much more inclined to do it. In fact, I never did it by myself. I always had a supporting cast. I think probably most bullies do.

I think back to those times I bullied someone else now, and I wish I could tell you I remembered it as cathartic. If I had derived some emotional or mental relief from it, it wouldn’t justify it, but at least it would be a little more understandable. Alas, no. I did it as mindlessly as it was done to me, my empathy circuit firing minimally or not at all.

So why am I telling you this?

Because I don’t think any of the adults in my life really had a clue about it (the bullying or the being bullied). It’s not something anyone would have supposed about me.

It may not be something you would suppose about your child, either.

Rocket City Moms and Dads, please try hard to understand, and well, how your children’s days go. Sometimes there are significant signs — a happy, sing-songy kid suddenly withdrawing, or seemingly arbitrary changes in a kid’s routine. But I suspect just as often, there’s no big indicator. Ask questions. You can’t help a child running in the red, or close to it, if you don’t know she’s there to start with.

(And children aren’t exactly reliable when it comes to addressing running in the red productively on their own.)

I have reached out to three of the people I bullied and apologized. Two of them replied, thanking me for contacting them and forgiving me. I’m thankful for their grace. I didn’t hear back from the third, and I can’t find the fourth. I hope they are all well.

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