October is national anti-bullying month in the US. But as most of you know, bullying isn’t restricted by borders, or languages, or culture, or even religions. Bullying is a nasty part of childhood, that for many, persists until adulthood. Swedes, Americans, whatever, bullying is everywhere.
I was bullied in school. A lot. I moved a few times before college, and those were not easy moves. As a result, I often spent my time being the new, different kid in school.
Before I get to the bullying part, let me tell you about my teenage self. I was an over-achiever who enjoyed the attention of teachers. I had to work hard for my grades, they never came easy to me. I participated in several extracurricular activities, none of which were sports. I was short, wasn’t skinny, and wore clothes from middle class stores. My family was educated middle class and worked hard to pay the bills, take vacations, and be awesome parents.
I’m sure people would have considered me precocious, a know it all, and a dork (nerd and geek wasn’t often used at my schools…go figure).
And I was the new kid on the block, literally.
There was one year I spent being the kick bag of the entire class. Even the teacher gave up; or at least didn’t do much to stop it.
It was my year of hell.
I had only two friends in that school during that year. The remaining friends were from outside clubs and groups I was in, and luckily I had some friends.
But going to school that year? It was awful. There’s no one place to start with how or why the bullying began. But I did know it was because of my circumstances in life. I wasn’t rich, I wasn’t Christian or Jewish, I wasn’t tall and skinny, and I most certainly wasn’t white.
All things I could never control about myself, but so easy to weaponize against someone.
When that class started at the beginning of the school year, I though I would make lots of new friends. I was switching classes from the previous year, and as a result, none of my friends would be in this new class. Side note, my school would try to keep each class together in every grade so students would mostly know each other.
So many new faces! And a new teacher to boot! It was going to be an exciting year!
After a few weeks, I realized that the students in this class had been together since kindergarden. Many of them knew each other because their families were already friends too. They took trips together, went to church together, their parents played golf together, the list rambles on.
I didn’t do any of those things with my classmates and their families. My parents were outsiders as well, and they remained so that whole year.
And there weren’t any Invisibility Cloaks in the world to keep me hidden. I had to face it all every day.
I was invited to one birthday party that year. When classmates would discuss their weekend, especially if there was a birthday party, they would make sure to talk around me so I could hear about their fantastic parties.
When I invited my classmates for my birthday, only two showed up, out of a class of 35.
Lists were really popular then. The best singers list, the best movies list, and all that innocuous good stuff. But teenagers, they’re smart, cunning, and evil. Instead of those top 10s, they made the prettiest girls in the school list, the ugliest girl in the school list, the most likely to date, the most unlikely to date, and probably many more.
I remember one afternoon at recess, everyone was gathered around one of the guys in class. They were scheming a list up. It was the “Most Unpretty List.” The list was hand-copied and so passed around like wildfire in the entire school.
I was voted the #2 “ugliest girl.” I was also voted “least likely to date.”
When I found out, I was devastated. I cried the entire night at home. My parents were heartbroken. They spoke to the teacher and the principle the next day. Both the teacher and the principle were appalled and would put an end to this behavior immediately.
Whatever my teacher said to those students, was the wrong thing. Everything backfired. For the next couple days, classmates were “nice” to me, it soon became aware that it was my parents who complained about them.
Retribution was swift. The teasing, the active ignoring, the talking behind my back quadrupled. I was teased about where my clothes came from, why my parents didn’t own a Mercedes like the rest of everyone, why I was fat, why I worshipped “stupid” looking gods, and so much more. I don’t remember most of what they said, but I know the dictionary was their limit.
Soon the teacher told me to essentially stop being a wuss and grow up. That those students were teasing me because they liked me. That everything would be fine.
That teacher? She behaved like an asshole and the queen of bullies. She allowed and tolerated all that under the auspices of her roof. She protected the bullies when I (or others) complained. She encouraged them to talk about their birthday parties, knowing full well I wasn’t invited. She favored others and gave them awards, when I knew I deserved them.
I was, all but abandoned.
When that year ended, I was elated but terrified. The next year I would be changing schools again, and who knows what that would hold in stock for me.
As it turned out, the following year wasn’t so bad. And it got better year by year until I was in high school and learned to fight back.
But the over arching lesson here is that bullying takes a toll on your well-being, mentally and physically. It takes a toll on every one of us. As friends, as parents, as victims, bullies take the best parts of a person and crush them into nothingness.
Bullies take away hope.
Bullies take away the security of being a child.
It’s no wonder that in a social and online media driven world today, that bullying has crossed boundaries that literally destroys lives. From the young teens who commit suicide, to the children who take weapons to school, the execution of bullying has become more and more nefarious and destructive.
I wish I had answers on how to combat bullying. I don’t. I don’t know what my parents could have done differently. I don’t know what I could have done differently. But when the students and the teacher become the bullies, there are few options left.
What I can say though, is hang in there. Hang in there because life will get better. Hang in there because these asshole turds rely on bullying to be “better”. You, dear victim, have so much more going; maybe you’re smart, maybe you’re great at music, maybe you love to write, maybe, you are just you.
But hang in there. Share your story as an adult to your children and nieces and nephews. Teach that goodness is better than bullying. Trust that no one can take your self worth, no matter how much people devalue you.
And love; we are all equal.