Friday, July 3, 2015

Some thoughts on bullying

This'll be a bit more off-topic than I usually get here, but I just saw something on YouTube that kind of hit close to home.

I was bullied almost every day in elementary and junior high, just because I wore glasses, was physically weaker than almost everyone else, and didn't care about sports ... and as a result I was never able to fit in no matter how hard I tried. I was much more interested in reading and writing and sci-fi movies and TV shows, so that made me a "nerd" and a target of relentless bullying. It was only occasionally physical, most of the time it was just constant verbal harassment and threats and insults. And when you're only six or seven or eight years old, that hits as hard as any punch. Add to that the fact of the bullies being physically stronger than you, and that leads to constant fear of being pounded into the floor if you try to fight back.

For a while I did what I was always told to do: tell the teacher when someone wouldn't leave me alone. Most of the time, that made no difference at all. The teachers would just shrug and say, "I have to catch them in the act before I can do anything." The problem was, they almost never caught the bullies in the act. Those little fuckers were masters of avoiding being caught. They had that shit down to an art. So they almost never got caught, and my grades suffered because I was too busy being distracted by kids hurling insults at me, or threatening to beat me up or stab me in the back with a pencil, or throwing things at me. All because I wasn't exactly like them. That made me a target, and once they found out that they could get under my skin, they never let up. It would sometimes get to the point where the sheer frustration and rage would make me start crying, and then those evil bastards would zero in on that and step the bullying up a few more notches.

So, telling the teachers what was going on didn't work most of the time. And a few times, the teacher actually accused me of lying. When I tried to follow the rules and do the right thing, one teacher actually said, "Stop telling me things that aren't true." Another time, a girl was picking on me without letup. Nothing I said convinced her to stop, and I'd always been taught that it was wrong to hit a girl. So I walked over to the teacher, told him what was going on, and asked him to make her leave me alone. What did he do? He yelled across the entire classroom at her and told her to stop picking on me. As you can probably guess, this resulted in every other kid in the class pointing at me and laughing their asses off. All it did was make me an even bigger target.

Eventually I realized there was no point in trying to get teachers to stop what was happening. They would either just not believe me, or their actions would make things even worse. After that, I tried to do another thing I was told all the time -- "just ignore them." Which didn't work at all, either. The more I tried to ignore them, the more determined they became to break me.

Another thing I was told fairly often was to just fight back. If some kid won't leave you alone, just knock him onto his ass. In fact, when my family was packing up to move out of that town, one of the reasons we left being the constant bullying I had to endure, one of my parents' neighbors asked me why we were leaving. I started to explain that one of the reasons was most of the school picking on me. He interrupted and told me that was a bunch of bullshit and I should just kick their asses.

Well, on the very rare occasions when I finally snapped and tried to fight back, that was the moment the teachers would finally turn around and look at the kids and see what was happening. They'd see me retaliating against a bully, without seeing the bully's actions that prompted it, and punish me for instigating something or "responding inappropriately." Which would not only show the bullies that they could get away with their constant abuse, but that their victim would be punished for defending himself.

Leaving that aside for a moment, there was a whole other problem. It was usually me against a dozen or more bigger, stronger kids in the class. I knew even when I was a little kid that the only way fighting back against them could've ended was with me being beaten within a quarter-inch of my life. So ... telling the teachers only made it worse. Trying to ignore it only made it worse. And fighting back only made it worse.

I pretty much had a complete breakdown near the end of eighth grade. I shudder to think what might've happened if I'd had access to a gun when I was that age. I certainly spent enough time thinking up extremely violent revenge fantasies. But guess what? Acting on those impulses would've only made things worse. So I was screwed no matter what.

And it never ended until my family moved to a different town, a town which turned out to be a pisshole in its own right, but it was still a step up from the one I grew up in, and I didn't have to put up with bullying from the other kids anymore. There, the bullying came from certain members of the school's staff, so it was kind of like ... I was in a different toilet, but it was still the same old shit.

And it continues into adulthood. Since the pisshole town I lived in is populated mostly by the meanest, most abusive excuses for human beings you could have the misfortune to encounter (they're not all bad; a small handful of the people in that town are very close friends, and there's probably a few dozen out of the whole population who are decent people ... but the rest, I learned over the next twenty years after landing my first job, if they were on fire I wouldn't even piss on 'em to put the fire out), the bullying just took on different forms from different sources. For the most part, it was the customers I had to deal with every day -- rude, condescending, snappy, entitlement-whores who would flip out over the slightest thing no matter how friendly and polite I was, and I didn't dare say anything in my own defense out of fear of losing my job. As much as I hated working in those places, I had to pay my rent and put food on the table. Those bastards knew that -- they knew none of us could push back too much -- and they took advantage of it every chance they got.

There were also a few managers in my previous job who were bullies. A couple of them had a habit of yelling at their employees on the sales floor, right in front of other employees and customers. One of them did that to several employees and they all turned her in to the store management. Nothing was ever done about it. The reason she was eventually fired was someone caught her smoking pot in her truck in the employee parking lot. At least they finally gave her the ol' heave-ho ... but it still angers me that she was tossed because someone caught her sparkin' up a doob, and not because she was a raging asshole who thought it was okay to scream at and berate the people under her where everyone else could see it.

So, once again ... different toilet, same old shit.

I finally got so sick of all the crap barraging me day after day after day there that I snapped and walked out in the middle of a shift. After thinking long and hard about it, I decided to get far, far away from that cesspool of a town, and moved 1,300 miles away to a city where the climate is much dryer and hotter and not severely depression-inducing. This place is the exact opposite in both climate and in population, at least as far as I've experienced so far. The people I've met have mostly been friendly and easygoing, and the rudeness I've encountered has been the exception, not the rule.

After moving, and applying for jobs for eight months, I finally got hired for a job that only pays $5/hour and is destroying my car. Spent two years applying for better jobs, and have never even landed another interview. Still, it's barely paying the rent so far. But I learned recently that one of the company's local higher-ups likes to yell and berate employees right in front of everyone else. And y'know what? If he ever does that to me, I'm out of there, and damn the consequences. After putting up with that shit for almost my entire life, I've had enough. There are some things I simply won't tolerate anymore.

So. Maybe ignoring it works for some people. Maybe fighting back works for some people. I don't know. In my case, nothing worked, and my family had to move to another town to get me away from the kid bullies. And then I finally had to move to a different state to get away from the adult bullies. This many miles away from them, in all likelihood I'll never have to see any of those fucking scumbags ever again. I've finally escaped them. But that doesn't change what I had to endure as I was growing up and, later, trying to make a living. It doesn't change the toll all of that bullying took. It doesn't take away the pain that's still with me to this very day. As much as I manage to "forget" about it, every now and then something comes along and reminds me, and all the misery and frustration and rage comes back full force.

As stated in the video above, bullying has a lasting effect. In some cases, like mine, a permanent effect. Some things you can't just "get over," even when it's something that happened decades ago. Obviously I was never pushed to the point where I decided to take my own life ... but there were moments when (the bullying combined with other things in my life that made me absolutely miserable) it crossed my mind, and sometimes I shudder to think what might've happened if one of those kids had pushed me that one step too far.

The bullying happened over thirty years ago. And then I see a video like the one above, and see that nothing has really changed. Little kids can be so vicious, so ... predatory. And when the adults who are in a position to stop it just shrug it off or punish the victim, it can lead to disaster. And when it does, they say things like, "How could this happen?"

The victims know goddamned well how it happens. And it will continue until those who are in a position to do something about it stop turning a blind eye and actually step in.

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