I’ve never written publicly about this. I was bullied in school. After a number of years homeschooling, I returned to high school in the 10th grade, as naïve as could be. No one told me not to flinch. This is a painful lesson, and you don’t get a second chance to learn it. Once you’ve flinched, it’s too late. They’ll just keep coming back for more.
Before I go on, if you’re about to enter high school, particularly if you’re coming from an alternative background, such as homeschooling, or if you’re an exchange student from another country, my one piece of advice for you is this: Don’t flinch. They’re not actually going to hit you (the first time). They’re just seeing if they can bug you, if they can put you on their short list of pathetic wimps they can have fun with. If you flinch, it’s all over. Got it? Don’t flinch.
Okay, got that off my chest. I entered 10th grade, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I was hopelessly introverted and nerdy, wearing a black, suede leather jacket every day regardless of the weather. I had looked forward to school. I felt pretty grown up (I was 14). But I didn’t expect people to be so mean. So I was blindsided. Fortunately, I had enough self-respect to stand up for myself and seek help with my school’s vice principal, the person traditionally in charge of student behavior problems, a.k.a. discipline. Not so fortunately, she was completely unhelpful. First of all, she tried to talk me out of doing anything about it. She made me feel like I was blowing things out of proportion. She actually tried to shame me out of bothering her. Eventually, she did something nominal, but it didn’t help. It probably made things worse.
I know that some kids had it much worse than me. And sadly, we all know how tragic the ultimate consequences can be, with incidents like Columbine. Thankfully, I was nowhere near that distraught over it. But it still wasn’t fun. This one guy used to corner me in the gym, during PE class, in that little hidden space between the corner of the room and the bleachers. Then he’d jab me in the stomach. Repeatedly. Eventually, I’d be able to find my way out and rejoin the safety of the class.
That’s the kind of thing that bullies do: inflict physical and psychological pain on people weaker than themselves. Bullies also have a strangely powerful effect on the kids being bullied. I found myself wanting to be his friend, wanting to seek approval. Ugh, it’s sick now that I think about it. But that’s the kind of effect bullies can have.
The truth of course is that I had it better off than the bullies. Think how the world must be treating someone for them to treat others so meanly. Bullies have lost whatever sense of self-respect they had. Hopefully, they’ll grow up and rediscover that self-respect, making a better life for themselves.
If you’ve been reading this blog already, you know that I blame problems like these (such as lack of respect) on school’s institutional lack of respect for its “clients”. But I don’t feel like preaching right now. I ask you to just reflect on it. When I was a kid, I actually thought that bullying was something you just had to go through, a necessary part of growing up. Now I realize that it has very little to do with my life as an adult. Sure, there are bullies in the adult world, but there’s a disproportionately high number in school. I fully reject the notion that being bullied is a necessary part of growing up. If I can help it, I’ll do whatever I can to ensure that no one else has to go through that experience, including my own children.
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