Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The last thing I’ll say about bullying for now

I was bullied as a child and I’m not now. It stopped on the exact day I left school. Nobody has ever bullied – or even tried to bully – me since.  In that, I’m exceedingly fortunate, many people are not nearly so lucky.

I’m telling this story to illustrate the difference between isolated insults and bullying.  I want to show that it’s not just the number of participants that turns insults into bullying, but the sustained nature, intent and sheer effort.
Hopefully I’ll show why calling someone a slightly bad name in one context is not the same thing as bullying.

As I said, I was bullied as a child. Pretty much from primary school onwards.  I was unconventional in several ways. I was clearly different to others from age four and I was always the very youngest in the class and so – for a while – the smallest.  I was also brought up in surprising isolation. I had siblings, but all quite a bit older than me and had met very few other children my age before I went to school.  I had no concept at all of things like football, for example, or social conventions among people my age. I could also – possibly as a consequence of all that – read at a very high level. And I did. And I talked about what I read. And I was a bit of a prig.

This is probably a familiar story. A geeky kid feeling awkward. Of course, those kids are made to feel awkward. They are deliberately excluded. The only way they can feel included is to do things they cannot or will not do. Such as to play football on day one with the skill of everyone else or to ridicule people for an arbitrary reason.

And this is where opportunities for bullying lie.  Since I had never played football and everyone else had, what do you think people did?  They either acted like they wanted me to be on their team and didn’t pick me or they picked me and then wouldn’t include me during the game.  Sometimes both teams would get together to piggy-in-the-middle me specifically.  They emphasised my not-belonging. 

And we’re talking 4-6 year olds here.

At this point let me say again that I’m not complaining about my treatment or my lot: I’m making a point about what bullying is.  Calling someone a name might not be the start of bullying as someone in another thread claimed. 

When I started secondary school, things got significantly worse.  A group of four or five people decided almost immediately to make my life a misery for years. It started with these people calling me names whenever I walked past and the larger kids physically intimidating me. Of course, these people were more popular than I was so the trend spread (score one for anonymous, I wasn’t saying this can’t happen, just that it doesn’t necessarily happen or should happen).  Everywhere I went in school or when I encountered people from school, everyone would smirk and call me names and describe my supposed shortcomings and sometimes try to intimidate me physically.

I grew a lot and the physical bullying stopped, mostly due to my random acts of going completely mental on people with whom I’d had enough. But the other sorts of bullying got…well…. not…. worse, as such. They got more…. refined.

For several years, two people in particular engineered a campaign of bullying, bringing in others from time to time.  They made sure that one or the other (or an accomplice) sat behind me in every class, whispering insults to me or – when talking among themselves – describing my supposed deficiencies,

Every class. Every day. For four years.

And throughout the entire lesson. Almost everything they said was about me and about how shit I was. They found a way to sit near enough for me to hear them, regardless of how inventive I was about choosing my own seat. And every time I said something to someone, these people were on hand to ridicule me. They seemed to be obsessed with watching what I did or said so they tell their friends about how what I said or did was stupid.

Sound familiar?

And of course they spread lies and rumours about me, tried to trap me in embarrassing situations and intimidated the few friends I had left to turn against me.  This happened with the one really good friend I’d had since day one of primary school.  Halfway through the 3rd year of secondary school, he wasn’t my friend any more. He was one of the bullies. One of the worst of them, in fact. Because he himself would have been bullied if he hadn’t done that. Or, as I had started to believe at the time, because I deserved it. At the time and for a few years afterwards I was so used to this abuse that I didn’t even blame him. 

So let’s get back to now. This stopped the exact instant I left school and I’ve never been bullied since.  I don’t have anything to complain about.

For many people, the bullying didn’t stop there. For some, it started there. Or when they started work. Or blog. Or be outspoken while in possession of a vagina. Or when they wanted to walk down the fucking street without receiving abuse.

People did those horrible things to me because they could. Teachers and my parents told me to sort out the problem myself.
Sound familiar?

And after all this, do I really need to explain the difference between someone being offended at being called stupid for saying stupid shit in the comments of someone else’s blog and actual bullying? 

Can you idiots still manage to pretend that you don’t know the difference?

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