Monday, October 11, 2010

About bullying, we need to talk

Advance notice: Forgive me if I get emotional here.

So, I've been away for a while. What's brought me back now has been the recent spate of kids killing themselves because they were being bullied. In discussing it with someone on another forum, I was asked if bullying was actually worse now than it was before and yo yo yo, let me speak on this 'cos I got something to say:

It's worse. Far worse. Partly, that's because there are so many more avenues for bullying now. When I was a kid, cellphones were the size of a house brick and only the wealthy or those with very demanding professions owned them; the internet didn't exist and DARPAnet (which would eventually evolve into the internet we have today) was only in it's formative stages. The only time you saw bullies was at school to a large extent. Today, pretty much everyone has a cellphone (which is not to argue that cellphones are a bad thing) and there's MySpace, Facebook, LiveJournal. There are so many more avenues of communication today. That has it's upside that I've talked about before at great (and probably boring) length but it also has a downside because there are so many more openings for bullies to get through now.

So it's worse now but it was always pretty bad. Remember that kid in school who didn't fit in? The one that most people pretty much isolated and ignored? I was that kid. I was slightly overweight, bookish, dyslexic (I know that seems a contradiction but dyslexia has many forms and mine only really affects my writing) and, hard as it may be to believe for those who know me now, rather timid. So I was bullied. I was beaten down pretty much every day between the ages of about seven and fourteen (when I suddenly gained fifty pounds and discovered wrestling). And there's the dehumanising taunts, name-calling that targetted my intelligence, my sexuality (years before I was even aware of it), my ethnicity, everything. Kat tells me that girls are just as bad, they just use taunts instead of beatdowns.

There's some stuff about bullying that adults believe that really needs to be debunked because I got told it as well. If you stand up to the bully, he doesn't back down, he hits you. If you hit him back, he goes and gets his mates and they all hit you. Bullies aren't necessarily stupid or insecure or underachievers. In my experiance, they're likely to be of normal intelligence and the exact opposite: So cocky, arrogant and overachieving that they believe they have the right to dominate others. The bully isn't socially isolated and without close friends. They're usually charismatic and collect friends eager to do their dirty work for them. And while I'm sure some of them are abused kids, many aren't. The bully doesn't pick on you because he's jealous of you or threatened by you or anything like that. A few individual cases might be all of those things but for the most part, the bully picks on you because he can.

A couple of years back, two girls here committed suicide due to bullying and teh press threw a fit. Stories about the "hidden cancer of bullying", big tearful headlines, the full works and I can remember feeling outraged. No, not because of them in particular. I'm sorry for them, of course but I've seen the story too often to be unusually moved by one or two cases. No, what outraged me (apart from the ever-present, maddening use of "cancer" as a metaphor. Guys, you're trained writers, FIND A NEW WORD!) was that it was only now that people noticed. It was only when the victims were photogenic little girls whose portraits could be splashed across front pages and you could concievably envision as reincarnations of the Christ child, only when there was actually blood on the classroom floor, only then did people actually pay any attention. Where the fuck were they for the previous thirty years? Were where they while hundreds, thousands, maybe millions of kids were having their lives destroyed? Where were they when those kids carried the damage that shit did to their minds into psychologist's offices around the world? Where were they when the victim wasn't some photogenic little angel, when the victim didn't have a straight A average and doting parents who thought the sun shone out of their blessed little behinds?

And, of course, I know where they were. I know exactly where the bleeding hearts and self-appointed moral guardians were. They were sat at the back of the class. Maybe they were laughing, maybe they were cheering the bully on, maybe they were hoping the bully didn't notice them but they didn't do a damn thing. And when some little angel (excuse me while I spit) tops themselves, they cry "oh, the humanity!" and rend their garments and tear at their hair and say how awful it is, someone should do something about it. And then tomorrow's paper rolls around and there's some new outrage and they go quietly back to sleep and forget about it because there's always a story important enough to go on the front page. And across the country, the kids that they just gave up on, the ones they think should brawl with the bully and his pack; those kids cry themselves to sleep every night if they can sleep at all or they sag off school or they cut themselves while their parents dismiss their emotions as teen angst, shoved their feelings in a little tickbox that they can safely ignore. And if the parents care at all, the advice they give is useless. My parents gave useless advice. It was Grimmer who bothered herself to go and raise hell about it.

Kids are animals, you see. Vicious little balls of spite and entitlement, all Ego and Id. It's the job of parents, of families and schools to train them to be something better. But, as Larkin said, "they fuck you up, your mum and dad". A lot of us aren't doing so well with raising kids these days and the old familial structures that meant kids were raised by an extended family, they're gone now. Thirty years of live to work and stagnant wages and shorter vacations and shrinking social safety nets, they've destroyed those family structures. And the schools, well, they're too busy pushing Little Johnny (who's a decent kid but a little slow) through this week's high-stakes test to get concerned about their student's life. The attitudes that allow bullying to happen, that cause it to happen, begin with families and you can't support lower wages, shorter vacations and a shrinking safety net and call yourself "pro-family". I was trying not to involve politics in this but fuck it, there it is.

Bullying is a weird thing. Everyone knows it happens but no-one's willing to acknowledge how much it happens or how deeply it affects people. Some people get over it, they go on to live perfectly normal lives. But a lot don't get over it, not entirely and not ever. I'm 34 now and I started cutting back when I was a teenager as a way of dealing with my emotions. I'm a bright guy, IQ somewhere between 152 and 165 depending on the test and with the mental clouding my meds cause and, when I let things get to me, I can still hear those voices calling me stupid because I could barely write (in fairness, dyslexia is much more recognised these days). I'm mentally ill, I know that and so, I'm maybe an extreme example. Most bullied kids probably won't become mentally ill or, if they do, it'll not have any connection (I'm very, very unclear on how much connection the two had in myself) but they'll carry the emotional scars of it. And still, no-one wants to expend time or money to tackle the issue. They want to teach kids how to cope with bullying instead of stopping the bullying itself. This is somewhat akin to shooting the looters in the aftermath of Katrina; it might help the immeadeate poblem but it doesn't exactly tackle the cause.

Anyway, that's me said my piece. Went on longer than I wanted, got more emotional than I intended and probably swore more than I should. But there it is, the die is cast.

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