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.
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.