It’s Anti Bullying week.
I was a frequent target as a kid. In fact, I can’t actually remember a part of my pre-university education that didn’t involve me getting picked on, beaten up, or left out. I tried to convince myself that it was because the other kids were jealous of my bulging intellect (as jealousy always seemed to be the half-baked excuse that my well-meaning parents came up with to explain away why their son was, by all accounts, a loser).
But I knew that I was the target because I didn’t fit in.
I’m simply not someone that has ever understood how to be like everyone else. And I don’t say that as a cool, counter-culture, uber-hip kind of guy that marches to the 7/4 beat of his own drum. No no. I say that as a stumbling, bumbling, trips-over-his-own-feet kind of dork that doesn’t know what’s cool, what isn’t, or what falls in between. I liked videogames but was lousy at playing them. I knew all about martial arts but couldn’t throw a proper punch to save my life. The music I listened to was wrong and the clothes I wore were both unflattering and out of date.
In high school, I ultimately went from a loser to a nobody. By the time I left, I wasn’t getting directly bullied, but no one (beyond a small handful of friends) knew who I was. To this day I wonder which one was worse.
Maybe the saddest thing about all of this was that fact that I was somehow not at the bottom of the social ladder. There were people below me. Not a lot of them, but enough that I could always look down and see at least a few disheveled heads below me. I knew them all by name, but I never said hi to them. I shunned their presence, as though I could, by association, be drawn even further down until… what? Until I lost all chance at being popular? I never had any in the first place.
What was it that kept me from extending a hand of friendship to them? They were weirdoes and losers and freaks, awkward, bespectacled, fat and scrawny, players of Magic Cards and Dungeons and Dragons. But they were people that were, in many cases, desperate for friendship and acceptance. As much as I was. Maybe more.
When I laughed with people that made fun of them behind their backs, when I commented myself, I gave everyone around me approval to do it right back at me. I gave them the right to leave me out by leaving others out myself.
I have no illusions that by standing up for the outcasts in my school that I would have effected wide-ranging change and created a loving culture of respect. Not a chance. But maybe I could have made someone feel less like a nobody for a day if I had said hi, sat down with him at lunch, built him up instead of torn him down. If I had set aside my pathetic pride at not being the most bullied, maybe one more person wouldn’t look back at high school with feelings of dread and despair. As I often do.
Bullies aren’t just the lugheads that shove you into lockers. They are just as much the losers that are too afraid to do what is right.