I have been watching the news, my friends, and the general population get more and more passionate about stopping bullying lately. After a series of terribly unfortunate and saddening suicides, supposedly stemming from bullying, the nation seemed united in the fight to stop this serious problem. I however, could never find myself in alignment with the masses. The more I saw anti-bullying statuses on Facebook and bully awareness news reports the more my feelings separated me from these ideals. I always wanted to voice my thoughts, but in the moment they always seemed muddled. I was also worried, as I am even now, that there would be some severe backlash for having the stance I have. I know many people who are very passionate about this, and my hesitance to write this is based largely in my desire to not offend anyone. Yet, it is one thought that keeps coming up in my head. So, I tread carefully and thoughtfully as I make my case, to stop the bully hysteria.
Bullies hurt. There is no doubt about this. I spent the larger portion of my life being bullied and at times, when there was someone lower than me on the social food chain, did my share of bullying. I am not proud of the latter, and have made it through the former. Somehow, I was able to make it through the danger zone that is public school with not only my life, but my dignity intact. Because ultimately, bullying can’t do anything to you. That is, unless you let it. I wholeheartedly stand by the idea that bullying has never been the cause of any death, cutting, or any other form of long lasting personal strife. The problem comes when you start to listen to the bully. It is the same problem that arises when you allow the blessings of others to define you or the picture of beauty portrayed in the media to define you as ugly. The problem we have on our hands is not a problem of bullying: it is a problem of self image. A bully can only do as much damage as you allow them to. The worse you feel about yourself, the less support you get at home, and the lack of a proper self image are what cause all of the problems we are running into. I spent my whole life being told I was a fatass, a whale, and a geek (back when it wasn’t sexy). I was never smart enough to fit in with the super geeks, but never cool enough to fit in with the popular kids. The theater, the one place I felt welcome, was filled with ridicule for my weight. Yet, I never contemplated suicide. I never once cut myself or turned to drugs. I attribute this in part to my amazing family, who constantly affirmed that I was worthwhile and in part to my wonderful community of friends (that in later years of my schooling, was my youth group at church) through which i found acceptance and love. I was able to stand up to the bullies. I was able to realize that their words meant nothing, and even though their actions would sometimes cause temporary damage, nothing could tear down my spirit because I knew who I was.
I would even go so far as to say, bullying helped prepare me for the real world. It is not like once you get out of school, the bullying stops. There are still going to always be people with low self esteem who prey on the weak. I experienced one of these people at my local grocer recently. A man, so selfish and impatient, he had to push me out of the way (quite forcefully, I might add), in front of his grade schooler, because he had to buy his case of Coors light. He was everything that a bully could be. I have always believed school is more than just education. It is preparation for the real world. There is social learning to be done. You learn how to make friends and how to interact with girls and how do take heartbreak and even, how to deal with assholes. It only gets harder in the real world, and sheltering our kids by putting on these extreme crusades against bullying may actually end up hurting more than it helps.
And these crusades are not going to accomplish anything. Over punishing a kid for using the wrong word or messing with someone is not going to stop bullying. In fact, more times than not I can guarantee it will make it worse. One thing I learned in school was you never tell on the bully. You stand up to them. Going to a teacher only fueled their fire, by: 1. Getting them in trouble and 2. showing your weakness. Ultimately, that kid you suspend from school is only going to come back more angry, more insecure, and more of a bully. If they can’t bully in school, they will do it outside of school. And it is much better for it to be happening in the walls of school than on the walk home. Perhaps it is not the bullies we should be worrying about at all.
Then what should we do about this problem? I mean, suicide is a pretty major problem. I think the solution to the problem lies not in condemning the strong (who in all actuality are weak, and are showing it by bullying) but by lifting up and taking care of those who they would attack. You can fight and fight all day against bullies, but that is not going to stop the suicidal young man who is dealing with unsupportive parents and a lack of social contact from downing a bottle of pills. Engaging with that person, connecting with them, building up real communities that are open to all people, showing people true love and embracing all, these are the things that will stop bullying. To all you parents of youth who have been bullied: it is far more important to let your child know exactly how much they matter and how truly special they are, than it is to go bully hunting. To those who walk the halls, embrace those who are picked on, those who are socially outcast. Not because you feel bad for them, but because they are no different from you. If you don’t, you might as well join the bullies. And to those that feel alone: Do not allow anyones words dictate who you are.
On a somewhat separate note, I have noticed that this whole hysteria has been somewhat focused on homosexual bullying. I mean, everyone throws in the extra tags when listing the types of bullying, but lets be honest, most of the time, especially recently this is what you are talking about. This has led to a new sacred cow being born. I am finding more and more people who get so angry when I call something gay, or when I make some stupid gay joke. The best part is, everyone who gets mad about it is always straight. As a matter of fact, all of my gay friends never seem to have a problem with my use of words or my choice of jokes. This is because all of my gay friends are secure enough in themselves to be able to laugh at the culture they are a part of and realize this one simple fact: a joke is not serious. So to all you uptight straight people, calm down and laugh. Let us embrace the old adage of “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” They are only words. It’s only a joke. Just as the catholic churchs needs to relax and embrace Dogma for what it is, just as I hear more racist jokes from my black friends than anyone else, we all need to stop taking things so seriously, stop making things unjokable, and grow a sense of humor.
I end with this horribly distateful joke, just to commemorate this embrace of light heartedness:
A muffin and Helen Keller are in an oven. The muffing turns to Helen Keller and says “Boy, its hot in here.” and Helen Keller says “UGHNHHHNHUGAAAAHNGA!”