Strength in Numbers – Do the Math.

Who was your Grade School bully?

No, I don’t just mean the person you had conflicts with in 3rd grade – I mean that one guy (and I say guy because it usually is a guy) whom everyone in the school knew about. The one who even some of the older, bigger kids were afraid of because he was just plain mean. Mean in that scary, unpredictable, please-don’t-notice-me way.

If I may resort to a pop-culture reference – I’m not asking about your Nelson Muntz – I’m asking about your Jimbo Jones.

It’s been over 30 years since I last saw him, but I remember my Grade school bully very well. His name was Brad B. I won’t use his last name, because I can always hope that he grew up not to be a bully and would hate Googling his name to find out that anyone remembered that part of his life.

Brad was the kind of bully that had a lot of friends – because he was kind of charming, but mostly because it was safer to be his friend than to be his victim. He lived just down the street from me. He was in the class a year ahead of mine, and a year behind my older brother. But there wasn’t a person in the school who didn’t hear his name and look over their shoulder to make sure he wasn’t behind them.

One year, I think it was around the time I was in 4th grade because my brother was still in the school, Brad made a huge mistake. In his arrogance, he dared to come to school on St. Patrick’s day without wearing any green.

Now, this might seem like no big deal to the average adult or non-American. But back then, in the ‘kid-code’ not wearing something green on March 17th was unthinkable. Because in the kid-code, if you don’t wear green, that makes it sort of obligatory that anyone who notices pinch you.  And by pinch, I mean ‘do your level best to leave a nasty bruise using only finger and thumb.’

As I said, Brad opted not to wear green that day. He must’ve gotten to school a few minutes before we did, because what I saw coming upon the school grounds was a large, unruly mob of yelling children chasing Brad into a nearby field – each attempting to surge through the mob close enough to get in his or her pinch… some doing their damnedest to repeatedly inflict pain on their tormentor.

At some point – Brad located the remains of a large green plastic garbage bag, which he knotted around his right thigh stemming the barrage of pinching. A battered, bruised, slightly tearful Brad skulked into the school only to be sent home by his teacher to “change into something less likely to cause a riot” since she was unwilling to let him remain with the used and not-very-pleasant garbage bag tied on his leg. As he left, I caught a glimpse of the smirk on her face as she turned away to straighten some papers and knew that somehow this adult was secretly gloating in the punishment meted out to this boy.

Since that day, I’ve thought a lot about bullies and a lot about bullying. How it happens, who does it, why it persists, why people don’t speak up to stop it when they see it.

Then 10 years ago next week, on April 20th 1996, I turned on my television to find out that chaos and mass-murder were occurring at a high school 15 miles away from my house. In the aftermath of the Columbine High School killings, a lot of attention was focused on bullying and its possible role in the insanity that happened that day.  I won’t get into that here as it has been well thrashed out elsewhere.  But I do believe that bullying lay at the heart of why those 2 boys were so full of hatred and fear.

But in the 10 years since then, I’ve still not seen much difference in our society. Bullying is just as much a fact of life as it was before that day. I never think of my daughter’s future education without worrying how she will adapt and survive in an environment where bullying is just as prevalent as it was when I was in school… but where the methods have become so much more devastating. The Internet has made bullying something that doesn’t just take place in the playground after school or during recess. Technology has made it easy to victimize someone on a greater scale than ever before imagined.

“Yes, yes – you aren’t saying anything new, GeekMommy,” I imagine you saying as you read the lengthy bit above… “why are you dredging this up now?”

Well, because sometimes it’s easy for people to forget that if enough victims band together, they can triumph over the bully, rather than needing to appease him so that he leaves them alone. There’s no need for violence though. Simply standing up and saying “you are a bully and what you are doing is wrong” can be incredibly effective if enough people do it.

There is strength in numbers you know.

And if this for some reason reminds you of something you’ve seen going on elsewhere lately? Well, yeah, me too. But the same principles apply whether you are in grade school, or high school, or the office – or even on the Internet.

Actually, they especially apply on the Internet.  If too many find ways to excuse his behavior, his power only increases. But if enough people stand up against a bully he loses that power.

And if you are the one bullying someone? Well, unfortunately, that record sticks around on the internet – and it might just get in your way the next time you want someone to trust you – like an employer or an investor or even a love interest.

If you’re reading this wondering if I’m misguidedly talking about you? Google yourself – are most of the entries you find filled with positive, helpful, insightful things? or are they critical of others, derisive, maybe even mocking? If it’s the latter… yeah, then I’m talking about you.

But it’s never too late to change. I mean, I’m hoping Brad did. He moved away shortly after that incident. I always hoped that at his new school, he was known as “that really nice boy.” He’s lucky the Internet wasn’t around to alert the new school about his previous reputation. But today, I guess he’d have to work just a bit harder to overcome it.


~ by Lucretia on April 12, 2008.

18 Responses to “Strength in Numbers – Do the Math.”

  1. […] stevelk: […]

  2. Great post…sadly the whole reaction to bullying or any violence is to back away and not get involved..we see it in kids and adults..when instead..if enough people stepped up…bad things would not happen so much.

    If people stood up together….they are heard….

    too many it is one small voice and the rest thanking god it wasn’ t them

  3. Exactly!! You said in those last two lines what I was trying to say in that whole post! :)


  4. As someone who investigates bullying in the corporate enviroment I can safely say that the internet has become the bully’s best friend.

    Not content with bullying an office worker at work a woman (who shall remain nameless for legal issues) sent threatening emails, IM’s and Facebook messages to her co-worker. In total she sent over 1000 messages threatening to do things that I shall not name here.

    Suffice to say she was sacked and legal action was taken (She is now spending a small jail sentence).

    However businesses and educators can’t simply ban certain websites and monitor web usage, many high school children and office workers have internet enabled phones (i.e. the Nokia N95 and the iPhone). What we really need to do is educate everyone (young and old) about how internet usage can be monitored (example: one case I worked on the employer kept detailed records of all usage on the companies PDA’s thus we were able to watch the bully in action) and that their actions can never really be wiped clean from the internet.

    Of course in the case of most bullies we also need to find the root of the problem (mainly in cases I’ve dealt with people are in the middle of a divorce, they’re in debt, etc) and help them overcome the problem which should (in most cases) help solve the bullying

  5. @W – thank you for that insightful comment – I agree that something needs to be done to educate people about the pitfalls of the internet – as well as the ‘permanency’ of their actions. Today’s hastily posted angry message will still be accessible 10 years from now, an accountability that none of us has had to deal with previously.

    But additionally, people need to realize that the bully only has the power if allowed to have it.
    If people didn’t ‘point and laugh’ at the misfortunes of the victim, it would be useless for the bully to make them public.

    Anyhow – thanks again for posting – that was very helpful!

  6. After doing a quick google it seems Jeremiah B (won’t use his last name for the same reason) is doing time in a northern California prison.

  7. @Steve – wow. Well, I guess that Jeremiah never learned his lesson – or else he’ll be learning it the hard way for quite some time now.


    Don’t you kind of wish someone at some point had intervened? I always do. Even when they were my own tormentors. I wish just one person they would listen to would’ve said “Hey, dude, not cool.”

  8. I just love this post. I’ve had a personal experience recently that makes it very easy for me to relate, as it does for a good many people.

  9. @shel – you certainly have – and I’m still trying to figure out why more people aren’t standing up in your case and refusing to buy into the ‘but it’s funny’ or ‘but he’s not that bad a guy’ mentality.

    The only reason I opted not to point out that specific encounter right now is that you are going the route you are to deal with it and I don’t want to get in the way of the resolution by giving him more fuel for the fire.

    Sad that he doesn’t have good enough friends to tell him when he’s crossed the line.

    Thank you.

  10. The biggest bully I had in grade school was a Catholic nun who took immense pleasure in beating certain students. She terrified me althought the only trangression I ever made against her was not knowing the difference between a flat and a sharp…she was a music teacher.

    I used to dread Tuesday afternoon music classes.

  11. I thought Columbine was in 1999.

    I don’t remember a school bully, but I remember my second grade bully….”shivers”…..

  12. I just found out a month ago, “my bully” doesn’t have one of her kidneys anymore and serious nerve damage in her stomach – she can never eat solid foods again. It’s horrible, but I can help thinking of one word “karma”.

    Well, life gives as all lemons sometimes, and what’s a girl gotta do? Make lemonade! I would love you to do my new inspirational “Lemonade Meme”


  13. Well said. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. It’s something I’ve thought about often in reference to my children adapting and dealing with bullying… and hoping that one of my daughters doesn’t turn out to be the bully. I’m working really hard on not letting that happen :)

    We had our school bullies – but nowhere near the the amount of bullying that takes place now. Well said.

  14. @Kim – lol… apparently, *I am the one* who can’t do the math – yes, it was in 1999.
    I must be living in the future… I’ll fix that, thanks!

  15. Serendipity brought me to this post on my birthday. I’m way past it now. I was in the 4th grade and it was a case of torment on the long walk home, so it was always just the 2 of us…if he happened to figure out my careful avoidance route. Most are unaware of this chapter in my history and given my resume of West Point grad,veteran, and Wall Streeter, some might call no joy on the story but it’s a real part of my life. I’m mature enough to know that the occasional thought in my head that I’d kick his ass if I ever ran into him again is silly, so I redirect into wondering how impactful feelings like that must be in so many other kids who were bullied. I don’t know the remedy, but like the ideas you put forth. In my case, the kids would have the additional hurdle of telling everyone (not easy) Either way….nicely put on your part. Thanks for a touch of healing.

  16. @Michael – Happy Birthday!!

    And yeah, we all carry around the children we were inside us, no matter how old we get.
    You were 10 when you were bullied – and not the adult you have become… we’re all pretty vulnerable at that age. I have to figure that bullies learn their behavior somewhere and most likely? It’s by being victimized by someone else themselves.

    I have found that some of the most amazing adults I’ve ever met were the victims of bullying as kids – I think maybe it gives us the strength to know that we can pretty much survive anything and still thrive.

    Thanks for your comment… and again, Happy Birthday!!!

  17. Thanks much. …and I’m thinking it’s his parent’s asses that oughta be kicked….

  18. hey geekmommy,

    great post! i’ve got two comments for you :)

    1) your point of ‘strength in numbers’ reminded me of this amazing story about how a school bully was overcome in a clever and non-violent way. you will love the story i am certain of it.

    2) I love your suggestion about Google-ing yourself and seeing what you find. I did this not too long ago and came across an uplifting comment that someone had written about me on a blog. It was about how I encouraged this person in gym class, even though she ‘sucked’ (her words) and was being made fun of by other girls.

    It happened over 12 years ago and this girl and I were never close friends in school but it made me feel good to know that I affected someone in such a positive way.

    again, great post, thanks for bringing up my good memories!


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