Thoughts by Richard Bleil
Watching my streaming service, an interesting episode of a crime series got me to thinking about bullies. In the episode, the lead character’s tormentor hired him for a case. I think it was supposed to be a happy ending, but frankly, it made me cry. There was no resolution for the victim (the main character), and the bully couldn’t even see the issue.
The issue raised by the episode is one of perspective. The hero was emotionally scarred by the torture and could not get over it. My chest has scar tissue from my heart attack, and the issue with scar tissue is that it does not heal. If I tried too much strenuous and heavy exercise, there is a chance that my rib cage could split open along that scar tissue. I have a lot of emotional scars from my school bullies as well, and they will not heal.
In the episode, the bully wasn’t even aware that he had caused such issues. From his perspective, it was all just “tom-foolery”, goodhearted banter and playing and the victim was having just as much fun. In the episode, he used that damaging phrase, “it’s just kids being kids”.
How do you fight an issue when part of the issue is perspective? When I was young, my parents always told me that I needed to just stand up for myself, but always seemed to say it in such a way that I felt they were ashamed of me for turning to them for help. Meanwhile, in middle school, I was facing a bully and his larger “muscle” who were constantly threatening to kill me and making me help them to hurt me or it would somehow be worse. The stress was so bad that more than once I would feel feverish and sick to my stomach and ask to see the school nurse (a special kind of torture in and of itself). The teacher had to be aware since he sat right in front of me and would pull his pranks during class time. And yet, it still happened.
If you were to ask them, I’m sure they would tell you what a great time middle school was, how I was such a fun guy and perhaps even reminisce on the good times we had. I have a small confession to make; the lead bully (the little guy) eventually passed away quite young, married with children, and while I didn’t celebrate, neither did I mourn him.
I was the victim, and cannot understand the mentality of the bully anymore, I’m sure, than the bully can understand that of the victim. So how do we defeat a problem of perspective as much as action? When does childhood games cross that elusive line between fun and torment? And what do we do about it?
I think that, to begin with, parents and teachers might need to take a more active role. My teacher at one point even asked me if the actions of my tormentor was the reason I often felt ill and asked to go to the nurse. And yet, in the end, his only action was to begin denying my requests. I have a good friend who was bullied so badly in school that she actually had to drop out of high school, an action recommended by the school administration who was aware of what was happening and admitted they couldn’t do anything about it.
This is wrong. I wonder how many victims turn to bringing weapons to school?
Some things need to change. Some parents need to decide that they will not tolerate their own children being bullies and need to be trained on how to recognize the signs while others need to support their children and believe when they are saying they are victims. Even if the incidents by the reporting students are determined to be “blown out of proportion”, the reality is that to that victim, it feels just as real, and it’s just as damaging as “real” cases. It’s real to them. We also need to better protect schools, teachers and administrators from lawsuits for trying to do the right thing.
Maybe we need to start holding parents accountable. I’ve advocated for this in a way before, namely, I’ve suggested that if an underage child gets hold of a gun or causes damage or harm with a gun then the owner of the gun, usually the parent, should be held criminally liable. We should do the same thing for bullies. Maybe, just maybe, if we start holding the parents accountable, then the parents will hold their children accountable as well.
Can that be a bad thing?