Bully: Surviving School

Kicked in corridors and spat on: this was the kind of behavior dismissed as ‘banter.’

This was previously published on intercourse with biscuits.

My mum went to the school. I was 15 years old and nearing the end of five years of bullying. Kicked in corridors, spat on, verbally abused daily. The latest issue was boys bandying about “gay” as a slur.

I’m not gay but it rightly offended me to hear them spitting out those slurs with impunity. I was punished by the deputy headmaster, a moustachioed sergeant-major-type, for wearing the wrong kind of coat. The bullies suffered no sanctions whatsoever for being hateful on an almost hourly basis. They played sport and wore the right shoes.

This is the terror of banter. It was banter that fuelled the pathetic Unilad website. It’s banter that turns sports teams and societies in universities into sources of sanctioned abuse. Banter has been with us for many years. When my mum told the teacher that those boys were using homophobic abuse as a regular part of their daily interactions he smiled and told her: “Boys will be boys. It’s just … banter.”

I had to ‘toughen up’ because I didn’t think that fostering that kind of atmosphere was appropriate. It’s all banter until someone dies. And they do die. Driven to killing themselves by “banter,”, driven to hurting themselves by “banter.” Banter is often a flag of convenience for vicious, hateful words.

And if you’re an adult who utters the old saw, “kids can be cruel,” you’re a coward and guilty of moral weakness. Kids can be cruel, it’s true, but adults have a responsibility to do something about it. Schools are not meant to be Darwinian test tubes to see which children can survive the taunts.

There’s a new film out called Bully. It’s been slapped with a R-rating in the US which means the very kids that should see it will not technically be able to. It needs to be seen. The effects of the insults and the punches and the endless abuse need to be seen. The reason for the R-rating is “bad language.” There are very many things worse for children than hearing bad language. The censorious small-minded folk at the MPAA are the same type of people who dismiss bullying as “boys will be boys” stuff and all part of growing up. If I have a chip on my shoulder, there’s a list of people I knew when I was 11 years old who deserve to take part of the blame.

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About Mic Wright

Mic Wright is a journalist and writer who has contributed to publications including The Sunday Times, BBC Focus, Q Magazine, The Times, The Guardian and Wired. He blogs as brokenbottleboy and co-hosts a podcast called Hello Internet People! He is creative director of thematerconsultancy.com

Comments

  1. I was a victim too, but only once in a while, not like you. Soon, I got very tall and wasn’t a target anymore. But while I agree with most of what you say, I think your attitude towards your tormenters is unhealthy (“there’s a list of people I knew when I was 11 years old who deserve to take part of the blame”, and the keyword here is “deserve”).
    Since your post appearing at the same time Romney is revealed to have been a bully in his high school years can’t be a coincindence, please consider this : several people who, like him and with him, bullied this young to-come-out-as-gay dude expressed their regrets. They moved on and became much better people than you would have expected them to at the time.

    Moral? People change. And if they don’t, which is the case too often, e.g. for Romney, then you mustn’t grieve. Despise them all you will but deep down, you have to hold on to the hope that they will become better people. Try to spare the most kids you can the suffering of being bullied (and of bullying…) if it can help you. But your life is too short for you to waste it on grieving.

    “- Whom do you regard as ‘bad’? The one who wants always to shame.”
    “- What do you regard as most humane? – To spare someone shame.”
    “- What do you love in others? – My hopes.”
    Nietzsche, La Gaia Scienza, s.272-274

    • Sorry, my mother tongue not being English, I used the word “grieving” incorrectly. I meant that you shouldn’t “waste it on resenting people”, holding a grudge forever.

      • But there is great pain in seeing those who made your life so hellish succeed later in life without repercussions to the abuse they gave you. When you sit there asking yourself why do they get the nice family, happy home, great job and income when they tortured you and other people without being sorry, without making amends. Resentment is natural, I only wonder how they will react when it’s their child coming home from school crying, cutting themselves, going from straight a’s to f’s, who’s life spirals down into mere existence. Will they wonder back at their own bullying ways and realize they caused this for others? That their words, actions inflict such pain that stays for decades, not days?

        My own life was robbed, yes robbed, of senior high-school success, college and a decent life due to a heavy social anxiety disorder and depression arising from bullying. My bullies have cars, homes, wives, families and I barely have much in the way of assets, haven’t been able to work in many years and have had health complications from it all. It’d be nice to get some of my life back, be great to see karma exist (it doesn’t btw), it’s taken a decade to get to a half-decent level of living but this grudge I will hold for life and it will only be really cured by seeing my bullies truly ask for forgiveness, show they are truly sorry, or karma biting them with a major-life changing event like they inflicted on me.

        Imagine a time where bullies are responsible for what they do to others? Do I sue the school for failing to protect me and the loss of 9 years with very little work and income?

        • “this grudge I will hold for life and it will only be really cured by seeing my bullies truly ask for forgiveness, show they are truly sorry, or karma biting them with a major-life changing event like they inflicted on me”

          I can agree on the first two ways you would be “cured” : your bullies asking for fogiveness or showing (i.e. proving) they are sorry. But have you ever wondered why these behaviors from your bullies would make you feel better? Just think for a minute. What happens within yourself when someone apologizes or demonstrates they have changed after they have wronged you? What happens is that your faith in life and in the value of others is restored. You live in a state of fear, and then the causes of your fears disappear. In doing so, your tormenters *allow you* to hope again and not see life through the dark lens of your grudges. But in most cases you can’t count on the odds that the people who hurt you will turn out good and come apologizing. This is why I said that people in such situations must be strong and keep hope. Just don’t get me wrong : i’m not talking about hoping that they’ll get better by miracle or that life will be easy on them, because as I said none of this will happen. People like you must hold on to the hope that the people who wronged them will change, that they are not dead inside, that a trace of humanity remains in them. Because it’s what ultimately “cures” you. (it all reminds me of Primo Levi’s “If this Is A Man” btw)

          As for the third “cure” you mentioned, namely being bitten by karma, well there’s a reason why every other movie depicts a character who seeks revenge and realizes at the very minute he/she can get it that it won’t solve anything. And the reason is because it is true. Getting revenge won’t get you anywhere. I really don’t mean to be contemptuous with this movies comparison but seriously, it’s a very common lesson of life but it’s hardest to learn for those who need to the most. You won’t have to hold a grudge against your bullies anymore if they cease being bullies, not if they themselves get bullied. Karma fucked with you. What you want is to fuck karma and tell it it was wrong, not for karma to fuck with other people.

  2. Eagle34 says:

    BBRS: “I was a victim too, but only once in a while, not like you. Soon, I got very tall and wasn’t a target anymore. But while I agree with most of what you say, I think your attitude towards your tormenters is unhealthy ”

    It’s interesting that, like many people who read the stories of people who were bullied, to always add “Well, I did this or that and was no longer tormented”. That’s a bit of subtle blaming of the victim, as if he only grew a few more inches, put on some muscle mass, or just punched them in the nose, that he’d be less of a target. Hopefully you’re not implying this because if you aren’t, please correct me if I’m wrong.

    And what’s unhealthy about what he say towards his tormentors? Nowhere in the man’s sentence did he say that he wanted them dead or seriously hurt. He wanted them to take the blame i,e, take some responsibility for the harms they inflicted upon him.

    BBRS: “Moral? People change. And if they don’t, which is the case too often, e.g. for Romney, then you mustn’t grieve. Despise them all you will but deep down, you have to hold on to the hope that they will become better people.”

    And that’s just as futile and a waste of effort as wishing death on them. There are people who refuse to change. And even if they did, dolling themselves up socially and etiquettley means nothing if they don’t take responisbility for the harm they did.

    Here’s my philosophy with regards to extending empathy towards people who have bullied:

    If they take full responisbility for what they did after they apologised, then by all means the victim can move on.

    But if they flat out refuse to acknowledge the harm or own up to it, then the victim has every right to hate no matter how much they appeared to have changed while still managing their own life.

    • “”” ‘Well, I did this or that and was no longer tormented’ [...] Hopefully you’re not implying this because if you aren’t, please correct me if I’m wrong.”””

      Well, getting tall is not exactly something I *did*. Getting tall is not an act… I meant that I had the luck to become tall, which was my saving grace. I’m not blaming anyone.

      “And what’s unhealthy about what he say towards his tormentors? Nowhere in the man’s sentence did he say that he wanted them dead or seriously hurt. He wanted them to take the blame i,e, take some responsibility for the harms they inflicted upon him.”

      OK. Someone commits a crime for which they aren’t judged nor punished. The victims feel resentment towards them. It seems that nothing can be done to bring the criminals to justice. In this situation, how will things get better? What miracle would it take everyone to be happy again (don’t laugh, we’re talking about happiness here)?
      Well… What do the involved parties want? You’ll agree with me that we’re talking ‘crime and punishment’ here. What does the overused phrase “to take responsibility” mean? Would a punishment satisfy the victims? How would that change the past? How would wanting someone to suffer change anything to what really matters : the well-being of the victim. Anyone who’s had the opportunity to retaliate after being wronged will tell you that they didn’t feel any better afterwards.

      What the victims want is NOT the suffering of the criminals. The victims want reparations. And by that I don’t mean “compensation”. I mean *reparation*. They want that things go back to the way they were, not to some semblance of happiness where instead of one happy cured patient we have two crippled forever. “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” (Gandhi)

      “And that [hoping that the criminals will become better people] is just as futile and a waste of effort as wishing death on them.”
      Did I say that this would have any effect on the criminals? I don’t believe in miracles. Your hope is supposed to have an effect on yourself, not, magically, on others. It’s your cure. If you can’t leave this state of fear and hatred (and even maybe self-loathing in some cases) you have been thrown into, then you will end up on your deathbed, eaten from the inside by your resentment, and life will have been bitter mostly, and at times not too unpleasant. *This* is unhealthy and not what you want. The reparation you want is for hope and faith in life and in people to be given back to you. Sorry if it sounds cheesy but its the truth.

      I don’t mean to sound presumptuous but I know rape victims who would agree. It’s a long and hard way, but it’s worth it ultimately. And remember : this is not about forgiveness. Don’t surrender to the inhumanity of your bullies by forgiving them, because that would be turning the other cheek. Instead, despise them and live strong, knowing that for each of the bastards, even if too few of them eventually turn out decent people and apologize, plenty of people are good people.

  3. I was the only Asian kid on a summer camp school bus….from daily racist taunts to outright groping to even the bus driver asking me what I ate for dinner (like I was from another planet!), it was utter torture as a kid at age 10….but soon I made friends who protected me and taught me how to fight back (how stupid it felt to be reduced to physical combat when I was a straight A student on the cusp of entering an elite JHS/HS in the city)…

    If anything it taught me how awful and cruel some people can be, but on the other hand it also taught me how kind and awesome and fun other people are (and those people became longtime close friends)….those were some of the worst and best days of my life….and it’s so important if you can make even just one friend…someone who can show you the light and that there is an alternative to the mean-spiritedness around you….who knows what kind of abuse the bullies undergo at home?

  4. Merrilee Ford says:

    Why should anyone forgive the bullies who destroyed a large portion of his or her life?
    I recently wrote a letter to the “head bully” from my high school days. Let’s see if she dares
    to respond to it!
    There is no excuse for being terrorized in your school, a place where you deserve absolute safety!
    I was robbed of my teen years. I’m almost 60, and there’s no way to get those years back.
    I will never understand why the “head bully” and her minions went after me as they did on an ongoing basis, not occasionally. There were many days when I did not utter a single word at school.
    I was lonely, depressed, and becoming ever more introverted.
    I was an excellent student, but that wasn’t much compensation.

  5. William says:

    I was builled in my first year of Junior high but i fought back, so much that one of my classmates gave me a nickname.
    I gained the respect of my classmates, where future attempts of someone bullying me where hindered by them.

    There’s never been a time where i’ve felt bad about defending myself.
    Bullies aren’t gonna magically dissappear and authority figures aren’t always gonna be around.

    • Adam Rodriguez says:

      That’s great, and I’m glad you were able to get enough of a handle on it that the bullies you dealt with learned to keep their distance. It’s also true that it’s practically impossible to rely on the protection of adults or outside authority figures and that nothing puts a bully in his place like a good beating from a (now former) victim or friends thereof. That said, there is a distinction between acknowledging these facts as they are now (and attempting to act on them) and assuming that the victim is at fault in some way if he or she is unwilling or unable to act on these facts. It’s a fairly fine line to walk, but at the very least we as a culture need to acknowledge its existence.

      Bullying is rather difficult to quantify, and there are in fact a fair number of cases where lack of political correctness and/or a certain amount of roughhousing is largely good-natured and labeling it as bullying would be a mistake. That said, (a) we’re talking about a school setting in which authority figures don’t need to be able to quantify exactly what they are or or are not seeing in order to step in, and (b) a lot of the behavior being described in this article doesn’t even bother masquerading as banter or roughhousing; it’s flat-out harassment and assault. When things are that obvious then steps need to be taken to protect victims and (if restorative justice and similar methods of conflict resolution don’t work) crack down hard on abusers once it becomes clear that this sort of behavior is a pattern.

      • William says:

        Victims needs to learn to stand for themselves.
        I fought back because i knew they didn’t randomly choose me, they saw this quiet, timid little kid who’s body language screamed “fear”.
        I continue to fight back because i know there’s always gonna be someone out there that’ll try to harm me.

  6. Thanks everyone for your comments. A lot of you are more qualified than me to comment on this issue.

    QRG

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