October is Bullying Prevention Awareness Month and I have a true story to tell.
I have been bullied, and I believe as a result, I have also been a bully. My siblings and many of my friends know that as the oldest of five children, I often bullied my “underling” siblings. But though it’s no excuse for bullying, I blame it on being too young and immature to carry some of the responsibilities I had as a child. Still, it’s something I regret to this day.
The bullying story that none but a few know, however, is a memory that shames me, even fifty years later.
I think I was maybe six or seven years old, perhaps even younger. I don’t want to say who bullied me, that’s not important. But I remember being made to stand still while I was criticized and chastised for how I looked–sloppy, unkempt, dirty. In particular, I was criticized for my dirty knees. I’m not surprised my knees stood out as “dirty,” knobby as they are. 🙂
I was hurt and scared at the same time. I wanted to leave that room, to hide from my hypercritic.
Who knows how long it took me to morph from bullied to bully-er, but I’m sure it didn’t take long. Sometime later, I took a walk around the block, and I came upon a red-headed girl, a little younger than I and began to yell at her about how she looked. In particular, I criticized her dirty knees. I remember feeling badly about it, even as I got uglier and uglier with my criticism. Yet, I couldn’t stop.
I don’t recall that I ever saw this little girl again. I’m sure she ran and hid any time I approached. I do wish I could apologize to her, even fifty years later.
So, here’s my first thought on bullying:
Bullying is like an infectious disease. When a person is bullied, he has been “infected,” and the chances are good the “germ” will spread through his contact with others.
I see varying degrees of bullying almost every day on the news, social media and even in real life. Each time, I think about what’s behind it. Here are a couple of other thoughts I’ve had:
- Social media is an incubator. It’s made bullying covert–easier and safer. A bully can remain anonymous. But perhaps even worse, sometimes the bullying may not be intentional. I’ve seen instances where snarky, sarcastic comments are taken personally and the receiver feels bullied. Sadly, this often leads to an escalation of emotions and shuts down communication.
- We’re losing our ability to empathize, to put ourselves in another’s shoes. What is behind someone’s bullying? How does bullying make someone feel, whether it’s in jest or not? Again, much of the blame goes to social media, where we comment without the benefit of knowing a person, without the benefit of seeing their physical response to our comments–a look in their eyes, a gasp, a wince, a turning away.
Bullying impacted me enough that I included several instances in The Red Kimono. In the following excerpt, Pearl Harbor has been attacked, and Sachi reflects on being bullied:
The school yard was crowded with kids waiting for the bell to ring. Sachi hesitated to get out of the car.
They will all stare at me.
That was just one of the things she hated about fourth grade. She didn’t like homework either. Or grumpy Mrs. Nelson. And she especially didn’t like the kids who called her slant-eyes.
One day at lunch, a boy in her class had moved to another table, all because she sat next to him. Snickers and whispers had surrounded her like moths around a porch light. She left her tray on the table and ran out of the cafeteria. But those moths flitted and batted around her all the way out.
I would love to hear your stories. Have you ever been bullied? Have you ever been a bully? Were the two related?