Bullies come in all sizes. I grew up in a great small town, but it had a clique system and bullies. Those who were different or had lower self-esteem seemed to end up more frequent targets, in my opinion. I grew up when diversity wasn’t something that was relished or embraced. I had friends that were wounded, deeply, by unkind actions and words – wounds that have lasted into their adulthood. Bullying is not new.
I can place myself on the list of those who have experienced bullying; an unkind nickname, comments meant to injure, I’ve been picked last for dodge ball, and physical threats. I experienced the same, not only as a child, but in most places that I have worked, from the criminal to a minor slight. I am no stranger to bullying.
Standing up to bullies is not an uncommon stance. I have been a proponent myself. Although, when I was bullied, that was not how I responded. Instead I shutdown and withdrew. This is the behavior that you would think is the most damaging to someone’s soul, but it is not. The most damaging behavior, in my opinion, is when you find yourself on the other side. When you know how it feels to be bullied but for whatever reason, you find that you yourself are the one being dismissive or unkind to someone who just wants a friend or to be understood.
As a kid, one of my dear friends was frequently bullied by one of the kids who was more popular, more self-assured and more aggressive. What this bully didn’t have was more friends. When our little group decided that our friend had had enough and we were going to stand up to this bully together, we crossed that line. We became the aggressors and we confronted this bully publicly and in force. She had no option but to back down. All she could do was retreat. As a kid, we reveled in our victory. We congratulated each other in our success. We believed in our loyalty. But were we right?
It’s such a gray area, isn’t it? We all hate bullies. We love movies where the underdog standups up to his bully. We love the scene that I lived as a kid in support of my friend. But is that right? How did the bully feel – whether she deserved it or not? Didn’t we commit the same offense as her?
I hate new places of employment. I hate feeling like I don’t belong until I create friendships – that waiting to be picked for a team feeling. Those first weeks where I’m unsure and self-conscious, especially if I’m also struggling to feel competent, they are difficult for me. I’m often not fond of people who make transitions like that difficult.
Nonetheless, I can’t say I have never made someone else’s transition difficult. I have made snap judgements about new coworkers, and not treated them warmly, while they were struggling to fit in. I have withheld my friendship, for sometimes valid reasons. Still, I have committed the offense I so dislike. Where do I draw the line? I can’t throw the first stone.
Recently an old friend told me of the bullying that he experienced as a kid. We were decent enough friends as kids, yet I had no idea he was ever bullied. When he first told me, I was angry at my little town for being so unkind. He deserved better. He deserved to know that he is valuable the way he is, and that people loved and accepted him. He deserved friends who stood up for him as well, and to feel that he didn’t have to fight his battle alone. I wish he had believed in our little group enough that things could have been different for him. I’m not sure they would have – it was a different time.
I hate bullying but I am concerned about how easy it is to become the bully in return. How easy it is to hold someone else to a standard I don’t hold myself to. I want my own way, as much as the next guy, but I need to find ways that use compromise and consideration of others while protecting my boundaries. I need to respect the differences of others better. We all need someone in our corner, that group that says, “I’ll stand beside you.” I need to be in more people’s group.
Determining where the boundary is between self-care and our own bullying in return, may be the most difficult line to find, and one I find most damaging to my soul.
By Vicki L Pugliese