Why is it deemed so important to be part of the crowd, to be normal, like everyone else? Is this what we are told and led to believe from a very early age? Or is this the conditioning, or indoctrination, that has successfully ensured conformity within the larger community? One thing I know for sure is that this process starts insidiously at a very early age and only becomes reinforced and strengthened throughout life.
My earliest memories – not including early childhood where there was still a modicum of innocence within – are of being bullied consistently and viciously because on some level I didn’t fit in. Yet I wasn’t even sure what it was that I was supposed to be or do in order to be accepted. Yet after a while my awareness shifted, I didn’t want to be anything like the nasty girl who led the gang that bullied and made my early years in school a living nightmare. If there was one thing that I was sure about it’s that being malicious, nasty and bullying was not healthy nor a desirable way to live. The bullying continued in the classroom and in the school playground. There was no respite from it. And this happened about sixty years ago, so what we’re dealing with in our culture at the moment isn’t new. Our cultural values and attitudes evidently don’t seem to have changed due to the bullying epidemic prevalent in all areas of our society.
Talking to the bullies, getting parental support, telling the teachers met with no changes to the status quo. This particular group of young girls had decided to use me for target practice. To this day I wonder what their home lives were like. Did they witness violence, intolerance and constant anger? Or did they, for some reason unknown to me, feel insecure or unloved? No matter the reason, they needed to feel strong and secure and could achieve this only by bullying someone. As a young child I abhorred the use of violence, but maybe that was due to the fact that my father would smack me and innately my sensitive nature shied from all things violent and cruel. Anyhow, how did I resolve the issue of the bullying? As young as I was I knew that it could not continue, just as the awareness was strong that adult intervention was ineffective. My opportunity for revenge occurred one day. I’d been needled, name called and tormented once too often and instead of turning away I turned on my tormentor and lashed out. I hit, kicked, bit and scratched. Oh, there was quite a ruckus in the playground as a result. The circle of observers and those cheering us on grew in size which in turn resulted in unwanted attention from the teaching staff. End result was a visit to the principal’s office – oh, shame of shame. Parents were called in and I received quite a scolding for unruly behavior. But, and this is a biggie, the bullying stopped. The girl leading the gang kept her distance from me and after that school was less traumatic or unbearable.
Would I advocate anyone taking the same action I took those many years ago? Not necessarily. It’s really a matter of picking one’s battles wisely. However, I learned something extremely powerful from that one ferocious playground scuffle. No one, and I mean no one, would ever bully me again. Fast forward many years. My two children were at school and the younger was on the receiving end of some mild bullying. I took the issue to the school principal, who in her own way terrified parents and was often considered to be a bit of a bully as well. Instead of being agreeable and malleable I gave it to her straight, told her what needed to be done and that I expected her to do it. Afterwards, in conversation with other parents I became aware that they would have stepped back and not stood their ground with this particular principal. Instead, I was the mamma lioness protecting her cubs and nothing and no one was going to say, “children will be children” to me, as if bullying and picking on someone sensitive was okay.
How can bullying be stopped? How can individuality and uniqueness thrive in a culture that continually narrows the definition of normal and acceptability? I don’t have the answers. Yet I do know that a healthy self esteem and a strong self respect are essential for individual growth and self acceptance. And those traits may come from within, as the nature proponents may argue, or they may be gently nurtured and supported by loving adults throughout a child’s early years. In a nutshell, a massive re-think and healing is needed within our culture. At the moment our world seems so far away from shifting from violence and anger. Yet I still have hope and a strong belief that ultimately this era of conformity, bullying (subtle and vicious), control, etc are coming to an end and that ultimately respect and honor of the sanctity of human values and life will become the status quo!