Facing Up To Bullies


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.


“Darkness Into Light”




About Maureen C. Wartski

I’m Maureen Wartski, writer, artist, wife, mother, grandmother; you can see that I have many of the bases covered. I was born in Ashiya, Japan, a (then) small town which lay cradled between sea and mountains. In the evenings, we would walk along the road that ran past Osaka Bay, and a great moon would rise out of the water to turn the world to silver. I’m told that my first words were, “Big moon!” All my life I have felt the tug to write something, draw something, put together something with fabric, string and color, and the urge to create has grown through the years. I suppose, then, that it’s a natural thing that this blog be full of the things that so many of you enjoy doing…drawing, making something with fabric, and writing. Yuri's Brush with Magic, my newest book for middle schoolers follows the adventures of a brother and sister, the magic of words, and the incredible magic of the natural world. I'd love to hear from you! You can send me a note at: maureen@wartski.org/ My blog is here: https://maureenwartski.wordpress.com/ Or friend me on Facebook!

11 responses »

  1. Good for you. I don’t think I was ever picked on but then I was probably too dumb to realize if I was. I do know one of my grandaughters was and is still picked on and by her sisters, which makes it all the worse.

    • Isn’t it? I’ve read some really heartbreaking statistics on this awful business. Are we all really like *The Lord of the Flies’ when we are young? I never liked Golding’s viewpoint.

  2. The bullies and the bullied — all are in terrible pain. No one is a winner in such cases. We have to ask ourselves why does such unnecessary hurt have to prevail when remedies might have been possible before it became too late to understand and act. There is too much in our world that is unavoidable, not subject to human intervention. We all must learn how to be agents for good before it is after the fact.

    • I agree. But I feel that some bullies don’t act out of being bullied or hurt themselves… they LIKE to inflict pain and to torment people. And it doesn’t change when they grow up, either.

  3. Maureen, I fought back as a child, but not very effectively as I was small and puny. But I do believe it deterred some of the bullies. I’m looking forward to reading the story your mother told you.

  4. i learned a lot from my class at Interact in 1990 when i volunteered to help that organization. they focused on domestic violence , rape etc. issues. the classes met each week for ten weeks ,i believe. One of the most potent responses i learned about was : when you confront a person who bullies others, they are surprised to be told” no, you can’t do that to me.” You will not submit to that kind of treatment.
    When dealing with people who have alcoholic illnesses, they are often sorry for their behavior. and say so. until the next time. when they go on to drink beYond their ABILITY TO CONTROL THEMSELVES. Of course, until they realize they have the illness,and will go for treatment. they never change. Violence is their way to handle their problems. but the people who have to live with them have choices too. they can change their situations. Often that is the only real solution. That is where Interact comes into play. they help those who are helpless against the odds they
    face. There are also classes for those who are abusive too. they learn thru anger management what they do to intimidate others. and how they can change themselves. there is a way to help .

  5. Dear Maureen,
    Thanks for sharing your story. It’s a bummer that people think they need to bully. I pray that all bullies find a way to express themselves without bullying. I pray that those bullied find a way to stand up to bullies.

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