How wonderful our world is—but how terrible it can be! Happy moviegoers can be gunned down as they were in Colorado—or they can go to school with guts twisted into sick fear as they wonder what horrors await them.
Bullying. Cyber bullying. I have been reading too much about this lately. There have been reports about merciless hazing, about a young soldier who committed suicide after unceasing torment, and there are too many testimonials from traumatized children.
This morning I came across an article about a woman who had been systematically terrorized throughout her school years. Now an adult, she decided to write to the tormentor of her youth asking her what made her the bully that she was. The answer was that the woman in question had been going through a ‘bad time’ in her life and so took it out by making others miserable—a reason, perhaps, but not an excuse and surely no comfort for the poor girl who walked in fear every day of her school life. Nor would such a statement help young people who are driven to self mutilation, or develop horrible psychological scars, or tcommit suicide because of unrelenting bullying.
It’s not just a national problem, of course. In Japan, for instance, ijime is rampant. So what’s there to do? Do we ever confront the people who seem to take delight in torturing us because we are weaker, or vulnerable, or walk to a different drummer? In fiction, we do, of course. On our printed pages mean people can be dealt with, or are given their comeuppence, or—sometimes—learn the error of their ways. But fiction does not always mirror life, and real-life bullies often strut about unrepentant and unpunished. Nor are they confined to our growing up years, for the mean people who made lives miserable during school days usually go on to be bullies in the workplace and abuse positions of authority.
I suspect that at one time or another we have all been victims. About thirty years ago, at a time when cyberspace was yet unknown, I wrote a YA novel about bullies. While I wrote, I remembered a long ago day in the school yard of the all girl’s school where I was a fourth grade student. I remembered being not only short and slight but also the most awkward kid in the whole world—the one who was always chosen last for any game. And, of course, there were the mean girls, the one who were popular, bigger, the ones who enjoyed humiliating me at every turn.
On this particular day we were playing softball, and I had just struck out. The leader of the mean girls had her face pushed close to mine and was yelling at me and telling me what a complete loser, what a waste of space, what a miserable human being I was. I suppose I had had it, because without even thinking, I hauled back and smacked her. She was so surprised she reared back and fell over, and the world stood still.
Oh, the rush of triumph—followed immediately by horror! Now what would happen to me? But, as I carefully backed away and made my way from the field, nothing did happen.
Of course force is not the answer. Of course pushing back can result in an escalation of bullying not to mention deadly reprisal. But in one way or other there has to be a line drawn in the sand. Not by the bullied children alone but by their parents, by their teachers, school principals, fellow students, law enforcement, and by all of society saying, ‘thus far and no more can you go.’
As for my younger self on that long-ago day, I have to admit I felt guilty. I had never slapped anyone before! So I slunk home and told my father, who was busy reading the financial section of the paper. He listened, shook his head, and returned to his paper while muttering something that sounded like, “About time.” Not getting much help here, I went in search of my mother who listened with an attentive frown. Suddenly, she began to laugh, and when I asked her what was so funny she said, “Supposing I tell you a story?”
The mean girls never bothered me again… and as to my mother’s story, that is a subject for another day.
Line drawn across sand…
It must hold against pounding
Of destructive waves.