On bullying

The “It Gets Better” campaign, is well-intentioned but a little thoughtless. Didn’t anyone ask bullied youth what would give them the most hope? What would make them feel better now? Surely it wasn’t the very vague reassurances about stuff getting better. That just sounds like all the other hundreds of trite, meaningless things adults say, like “I’ll tell you when you’re older.” It’s no comfort at all, because it’s not strictly true. How can anyone know for a fact that every single bullied kid’s life will improve? It’s a well-intentioned statement but where’s the evidence?

The Grimm brothers knew what children wanted. Iconic stories of gory justice served on the offending party. The villain gets it in the end, and not just figuratively. There’s eye-gouging by giant birds, death by boiling oil and all kinds of gleefully gory things. I think that’s what we need now. Instead of poised celebrities putting on their very best compassionate face and making trite statements like “just hang in there, it gets better”, we should have them tell their own stories! Stories of triumph, like that of Margaret Cho (which inspired this blog post). She was bullied for every little divergence from the norm – for her looks, her sexuality, her foreignness. Now, former bullies pay to see her backstage at her shows and she pretends she doesn’t know them! We need other stories too, like about how the head cheerleader got pregnant at the prom and works at a fast food chain now, while the nerdy girl she bullied is now a prize-winning novelist. Or how that dorky kid in calculus is now the millionaire CEO of some startup.

Forgive me if this is too positive a spin to put on a negative thing, but I think bullying in K-12 can be an important formative experience. A rite of passage, a trial by fire. Something that makes a person more vibrant. When you’re at the top of the social ladder all your life, a few things tend to happen. You get complacent. You never learn how to deal with being isolated or scorned. You don’t learn how to take criticism. You expect things to always be easy. It’s harder for you to see the silver lining. You get stuck reliving those “glory days” and stagnate as an adult. I have found that victims of bullying grow up to be more interesting adults. Who knows if they would be that way without having endured their tormentors. I also don’t believe that any campaign or zero-tolerance policy will ever be effective towards eradicating bullying behaviors. The best we can do is help the victims find the humor or the hope in their situation. Hope in that they’ll likely grow up to outshine their bullies. Not that it’ll somehow “get better” — no, that implies we’re just waiting around for those bullies to lose interest or grow out of it. It’d be much better if we could give them some satisfying true stories about bullies growing up to become their victim’s janitor. Have any? I’d love to hear them.


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