I was bullied pretty badly when I was a kid.
Few people believe it today, thanks to my Adonis-like visage and tendency to use dropkicks as exclamation marks during arguments, but it's true. Starting from junior high, my average school day was a nerve-racking experience, on par with Gilbert Gottfried reading the entire Twilight series to all of your senses at once.
There's an upside, though: During my years in the dog pound I had plenty of chances to learn the gentle art of coping with bully bullshit, a skill that has been extremely handy later in life.
Want to hear what I've got? Because here's what I've got:
Do not think for a second that I'm about to start singing the blues, here. I wasn't bullied because of my race, or girth, or because a woman done me wrong. I was bullied because, frankly, I was a fucking weird kid. In addition to the standard 1990s Victim Kit -- a deep fascination with books, comics, and D&D -- I had also invested in the expansion pack: late puberty, skinny build, a mouth that always says the exact wrong thing, and the tendency to treat haircuts and fashion with the same enthusiasm your landlord treats your complaints about the leaking radiator. If you take that mental image and feed it to a 3D printer, it'll churn out a pair of hands that will give you a wedgie.
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Constantly wearing this shirt probably didn't improve matters.
So you'd think "Hey, stop being weird for a week and see what happens" would be useful advice, but that's because you think there's logic to a bully's targeting system. There isn't. Obvious targets such as myself were an exception rather than the norm. Sure, we were there, and we definitely got our heaping helping of schoolyard dickery -- but ultimately it was pretty impossible to predict who would end up on the receiving end of at least some form of bullying. The reason for singling out a victim could be literally anything: People I know have been targeted because they're too "ugly," too pretty, too "stupid," too smart, or just too damn incomprehensible in the eyes of whatever fuckwitted troll-person happens to appoint itself on bully duty.
Sure, there are scientific systems for predicting the whos and whys of bullying. But guess what: When you're wrestling a bunch of kids who are actively trying to shove your head in a bag of dog turds after class, you're not going to stop and consult a behavioral scientist for the reasons behind this particular phenomenon. There's no reason or rhyme to bullying when you're actually experiencing it, whether you're just a bewildered kid or an adult office drone that ends up in the crosshairs of some assface.
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There's no accurate scale for measuring human behavior under emotional duress: Where one man folds under pressure, the other effortlessly juggles his problems while simultaneously teaching himself to fart show tunes. But when a bullied person marinates in the frustration of a seemingly hopeless situation, one constant emerges: It's easy to start thinking your bully is evil. After all, isn't evil all about causing harm to other people? It's right there in the dictionary, for fuck's sake.
By that definition, No. 1 on my personal list of evils would be a malfunctioning dick surgery robot.
In reality, the reasons behind bullying are almost always a big fat bunch of blurred lines. Bullies often have bullies of their own, maybe a parent, and if you're a victim of one there's a fair chance you'll eventually take it out on someone yourself. There are a lot fewer genuinely evil bastards out there than we think, and they're usually too busy doing creepy things with dolls and practicing their clown makeup to seriously take up bullying.
If I'm wrong and your bully is the embodiment of absolute evil, just keep calm and wait for
the rise of the inevitable mythical hero destined to defeat him.
So no, that snotty brat who kicked your ass in high school is probably not inherently evil; he's just a stupid kid who has somehow ended up doing stupid things. Still, good luck wrapping your head around that shit when you're the person whose backpack he keeps pissing in.
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Movies often show bullying as a form of abusive relationship between the victims and their scourge: George (and Marty) McFly has to deal with Biff Tannen, and Daniel LaRusso is oppressed by Evil Blond Cobra Kai Guy. What screenwriters consistently neglect to mention is that the actual bully may not be the worst part of the situation. Often, that prize goes to the bystanders -- the fuckers who just sit around and pretend not to stare at the great recess crotch-kneeing show.
Bullying is, unfortunately, a part of human nature. Evolutionary scientists suggest it's a remainder from our monkey days, used to establish social hierarchy. The same scientists go on to say that we can (and should) prevent it by stomping on the behavior the second some kid attempts bully antics. But what happens when no one in the community feels like doing so?
Anyone can tolerate an abrasive asshole or two. We have tons of practice every day -- they're not exactly an endangered species. What really puts our nuts under the mallet is when everyone around you just glances at the situation, shrugs, and goes about their day. That does way more damage than sending you home with gum in your hair, because it can make seeking help seem impossible: Who are you going to turn to when it looks like almost no one gives a rat's ass?
Of course, those bystanders are probably just another part of the great bullying dance -- they're often just afraid, and are likely to receive their share of emotional scars from not standing up to the bully. But try telling that to the kid who's getting his pants stolen the third time that week.
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"Man, I feel so sorry for you guys."
Luckily, the onlooker issue might eventually wind up doing more good than harm: Psychologists have recognized the problem and are working on an anti-bullying approach that focuses on bystander awareness, instead of the bullies themselves. But as long as the situation remains, the combination of bullies and passive onlookers is going to feel a lot like you were Frodo and the world was all Mordor, all the time, baby.
And that's your cue to make things really difficult for yourself, because ...