It was April in 7th grade and that meant it was time for track in PE, or for me, hell. It meant we had to run the mile, and jump over those hurdle thingys and attempt to thwart our bodies over the high jump. Yuck. Yuck. Yuck. I wanted to be in theatre, in choir, or English, or home. Anywhere but on that track, in the middle of an Illinois cornfield.
I hated it not only because I was the slowest, least agile kid in the seventh grade, but because it was in those 30 minutes that the bullying would be the worse.
His name was Warren and our lockers were right next to each other. Every morning he would make gross, suggestive sounds under his breath, as we put away our coats and got out our books. He would make comments about my body, about what was too small, and what was too big. He would be just insulting enough without being overt enough to make me feel like I could report him. – And no, he did not “like” me. This quiet harassment took place all school year.
Then came the spring and track. Every day as I attempted to run a mile in less than 15 minutes, Warren and his friends, who had finished in under 8, would sit on the hill and laugh and throw rocks at my feet as I huffed around the track.
Finally one day I had enough. Warren and his cronies had to stop. I ran over, jumped on top of Warren and tried to hit him as hard as I could. For some reason, the PE teacher, who never noticed anything, noticed this. I was sent to the office. Mortified. Sweat, dirt and tears mixed together. I was so nervous, “Oh God, I’m going to be suspended! Or worse, they are going to call my Dad!”
I went to the counselors office and cried and shared everything. I was not suspended. They did call my Dad. Warren stopped picking on me. Track ended. So did 7th grade, thank God. Summer came, and when school started the next fall I learned that Warren had moved to Chicago.
Schools today do a much better job in addressing bullying. I had assemblies on drugs and alcohol prevention, my kids have assemblies on bully awareness. I think my kids are far better prepared today to confront bullying than I was, or at least I hope they are.
We know as adults that bullies show up in our work places, our churches and on the Highway. I believe that the only way to stop bullying in our society is for the culture to be mature enough to say that such behavior is unacceptable. – Which is why junior highs and church sessions are so vulnerable….that’s a joke.
But in all seriousness, we have to raise the bar of expectations of how we treat each other as a culture in order to put an end to bullying, harassment and violence. Only by setting the standard of acceptable behavior, can that behavior be obtained.
Here is my list of Do’s and Dont’s in dealing with a bully of all ages.
Don’t make excuses for their behavior.
Don’t justify their behavior.
Don’t think you can change them or make them “like” you.
Don’t ignore it and hope it goes away.
Do address the behavior immediately. Call it out. “Dude, that is NOT happening.”
Do tell an adult or friend. Solidarity brings power.
Do find a way to regain power. Tell the truth. Call it like you see it. Your truth matters.
I think all of us have painful memories of bullying, like what happened to me in 7th grade. Some, much, much worse, I’m sure. We all have stories locked up in our adolescent psyches that are still a part of who we are, and explain why we are cautious or defensive around certain issues today. It would be wise for us to treat each other with the understanding that we all walking around with hidden scars.
While we all have hidden scars, we also have an inner fire that empowers us to step up, speak out, and stand strong. Let’s stoke that inner fire and be stronger for it.
Just a side note, today I am a runner. – I found that inner athlete, deep down underneath that self-doubt and insecurity. – I’m still slow, but I don’t care.