Friday, January 27, 2012

about this bullying business

"Bully(ing)" has become a buzz word within the past couple of years.  There have been news stories about people who have committed suicide, different anti-bullying hot-lines and organizations established, and, in general, awareness of bullying has risen.  I can't say that I have a profoundly different view point from others, but I've heard maybe two other people voice a similar opinion to mine in regards to bullying.

As a Victim:
Yea, being bullied sucks.  Growing up, I was bullied by peers at school, at church some too.  I remember, in 7th grade, I was new to the school and was having a difficult time acclimating to the different "culture" of the school.  The school was run differently and the population was different from my prior school.  There was a girl in a couple of my classes that I had known from elementary school who I was excited to see, so I started to hang out with her and her friends.  They were delinquents (getting in fights and getting suspended), but what was worse was how they treated me; the 'leader' of that posse, the girl I went to elementary school with, would tell me that she was only letting me hang out with her and her friends as a place holder while waiting for someone better to come along.  That made me feel worthless and foolish.  It made me feel small, insignificant, helpless.  But I fortunately had great parents who helped me understand what was going on.  They told me that we weren't really friends, because a friend would not behave that way towards a friend.  They said a human who treats other humans that way isn't the kind of person you want to be friends with.  Now, I think that's a pretty cliche thing to say, but they did build me up in this way: they told me that I know what's true about myself, so when bully said otherwise I would remind myself of what the truth was about myself.  That helped me through tough times and to this day I remind myself of what's true about me when I'm feeling insecure.

As a Bully:
I've bullied before, primarily in elementary school.  It was the kind where someone, at some point, decided that they didn't like such-and-such a person, and was able to rally others (including me) into making a point of notifying the "cootieful" person that everyone else thinks they're weird/ugly/dumb/whatever.  I only thought the person was gross/whatever because someone else told me so, and I believed them.  We never thought "I'm gonna go bully that person", but that's what was done.  If I knew then what I know now, I certainly would not have bullied.  I do hope the victims of my bullying had great parents like I did who helped them cope with being bullied.

As an Educator:
At school, my morning duty is to monitor the hallway adjacent to the cafeteria where the kids line up to eat breakfast.  I say stuff like "hands off the wall", "good morning", "tie your shoe", "keep it moving", "hi friend", "una fila", "walk on the right side of the hall".  All sorts of exciting stuff!  Often times I have to put out fires that involve one student mistreating another, typically verbally.  Student #1 will be bullying Student #2 because they're smaller/shorter/wearing blue/insert anything.  Since each child is different, they handle being bullied differently; some tell me and others try to handle it themselves.  I don't like it, I think it's dumb.  I think bullying is dumb.  To make someone feel bad about themselves based off of something true/untrue.  Don't you have better things to do?  I love my students and I want the school environment to be safe and nurturing, so when students prevent that from happening it peeves me.  It's a waste of everyone's time.

As a Christian:
Part of the call of being a Christian is caring for the marginalized, for the bullied, for the helpless.  When I see someone being mistreated it upsets me, it makes me want to jump into action.  I want to give them everything they deserve: a life with purpose, full of love.  I often feel ill-equipped to help, convince myself that my voice isn't big enough or that no one else cares so why should I?  It's not the right attitude.  God called us to take care of our fellow humans, therefore we are equipped to do so.

No matter who I am at the time, victim, bully (not so much anymore), educator, or Christian, I have the same uncharacteristically pessimistic attitude toward bullying: it's never going to stop, so let's equip people to deal with it.  As long as humans are human, we will continue to be stupid, and selfish, and wrong...which means we will continue to bully.  Do I think this is right?  No.  Do I think there's a healthy way to handle both the bullies and the victims?  Yes.  I'm all for working towards extinguishing bullying, but I'm also a huge advocate for educating people on how to cope with being bullied.  Not everyone was/is fortunate enough to have parents, like mine, who teach them to be a person who won't allow themselves to be bullied.  What does a person who won't allow themselves to be a victim do when they're bullied?  They remind themselves who they are, what is good and true about themselves.

I have a students who has paranoid-schizophrenia, anytime someone says something he doesn't like, he takes it personally and says that everyone/everything is against him and hates him (Student J). In the morning, when he's in line for breakfast with the other kids, there's another student of mine who always has something sneaky to say (Student N).  Student N doesn't say the usual bully-esque things like "you're ugly/fat/dumb/weird/a freak", no, he says things that are time and tested to offended Student J.  He says stuff like "you're seven (as in age)", now you'd likely be surprised to find out that it's common for elementary school students to get rather offended by an untrue statement such as this one.  Student J (with paranoia-schizophrenia) takes it exponentially more personally than a student without such a disorder; he yells, he pouts, he says/thinks that everyone hates him and has it out for him (that's where the paranoia kicks in).  When dealing with these two, I go first to the victim, Student J, I ask him if the statement in question is true.  He says yes (that's pretty common for elementary schoolers, to know the truth yet still believe lies that challenge the truth) and I say 'no'.  I ask how old he is, he tells me (8/9) and I say that if someone says otherwise, you remind yourself of what's true.  I tell him to stop listening to Student N's lies and to recite the truth to himself.  That's the advice I give to anyone, adult or child, know what's true about yourself and recite it often.  When dealing with bullies, I remind them that their behavior is inappropriate, I tell them their words and actions hurt others as well as get them in trouble.  I say they just should speak unless necessary, so they won't be tempted to do the wrong thing.

Yes, bullying is wrong, and should end.  But it won't.  So while we're on a witch hunt for bullies, we should be equipping the bullied with tools to healthily defend themselves.  Defending themselves doesn't necessarily mean retorting with witty statements or turning into a bully, it means helping them cope with being mistreated and helping build their self-esteem so even when they are bullied their self-confidence isn't shaken.

I don't believe bullying will ever fully be eliminated, but I DO NOT think this warrants an excuse to just let it happen.  I believe there should be an equal amount of attention given to equipping the bullied as there is to correcting the bullies.  I see an immense amount of work put into dishing out repercussions to the bullies, yet the victims of bullying simply get a pat on the back/hug and tell them they've been wronged (they know they've been wronged, they were there for that).  Give the victims tools for handling it so the next time they are bullied they will be able to handle the situation on their own instead of being helpless victims.

If you are a bully, stop.  If you are an victim of bullying, know that there is Someone who loves and cares for you and that you are never alone; reach out, ask for help, and know that no matter what, you're worth more than what the bully tells you.