Sunday, November 13, 2011

Scared Stiff And I Still Didn't Fight Back...

There is a subject that is probably being discussed in the homes of most if not all children between the ages of 5 and 17. And I could be mistaken about the age of 5. I may be optimistic about that, since nowadays five year-olds are more intelligent and smarter than they were six-seven years ago and this age group grows more savvy in the ways of life as time goes by. Which means they are just as capable (in their own way) of participating in the number one social pariah among school age children and teens. I'm talking about "bullying".
image photo : Fight
Perhaps there was a time when bullying could have been looked at as a rite of passage.  As kids got older they would encounter an older and bigger kid on the walk to school or on the school playground or in the school cafeteria. They may have had to give up their lunch money for a while and could have been on the receiving end of several school yard fights. But these were clean fights...fought fairly with the fists and hands and the black eye that some of them got was a prize showing of strength and agility for the winner.
Middle and elementary school age kids did not take weapons to school. But we were the victims of bullying and I have an up close and personal association with bullies; two of them as a matter of fact and they were both girls in my class at school.

The first girl was a few years older than I was at the time which was around the age of ten. She had been held back for twice in school at this point and she was twelve and in the fifth grade. She was taller and bigger than I was. I was completely at her mercy because her house was at the top of the hill on the corner of the street where I lived, and it didn't help matters that I had to walk right past her house on the way to school. I forget how this started, but I do remember how it went.

I only had thirty five cents a day in lunch money, and an extra nickel for ice cream. My nemesis would demand I give her my thirty-five cents and in the beginning, all she had to do was demand it of me and I would hand it over like a simpering idiot. Even at the age of ten, I experienced feelings of self-recrimination because I would not stand up for myself. I tried to avoid her as best I could, but she was almost always standing there at the corner at the top of the hill...waiting for her prey like some Amazon warrior. As if it was not humiliating enough to scare me into giving her my money, she had to further embarass me by shoving me hard and laughing at me after I handed it over.  Sometimes she pulled my hair or poked fun at my clothes and I hated myself for being meek and cowardly, but I was too ashamed to tell my parents.

Keep in mind that this was the 1960's and my parents were not the easiest people to relate to. I mean, I hardly knew them outside of their parenting roles(which they were wonderful at) but they didn't offer up any extras like encouraging me or my younger brother to talk about ourselves. You just did not talk about how you "felt" about well... anything. If you were scared, embarrased, sad or uncertain about life's events you just "kept your chin up" and felt your way along as best you could. But this story is not about my parents.
Every once in a while I would get a reprieve when she didn't show up because she wasn't going to school. And on these days I would feel like skipping the rest of the way once I got past her house.

So you're probably wondering how I ate with no money. Well, for a while I was able to play it off by saying I left it at home, I lost it on the way, or my parents forgot to give it to me. Now, you know this did not cut it for long, and I was too nervous about it to try an excuse more than two days a week. The other days I either went without while watching her eat lunch bought with my money, or one of my classmates who sat at my table would share their meal with me. The bullying went on for a good two months before I received the best news ever...she and her family were moving away!

The first day that I walked up the hill and saw her empty house was one of the best days of my life at that point! But my happiness and freedom were short-lived. One of my so-called "good friends" took up where Miss X left off. She began asking me for my homework answers, my lunch money and some of my other little treasures that every ten year old girl finds dear. Now this girl didn't try to scare me and she never pushed or shoved me the way Miss X did. No, she was supposed to be my friend and she was smart enough to try and make me feel sorry for her. This type of mental bullying continued off and on well into our high school years. I never knew when she was going to start a new campaign...sometimes she would let me be for weeks at a time and during this time we would have a normal friendship just like any other friends. I discovered later that the times when she let me alone were corresponded with the times when her mother got paid; which I also discovered was once a month.

Eventually, Miss XX stopped the emotional demands she put on our friendship. She simply quit. I was afraid to hope that it was completely over, but just before the end of the current school year had come around and still nothing had happened, I breathed freely for the first time that year. It never happened again.

I am ashamed of myself for not defending my rights. I am ashamed that I allowed myself to be both physically and emotionally bullied without even trying to put up a fight. Oh, sure I have forgiven both of the girls long ago, and I have even forgiven myself because all of this business was a very long time ago, but I hope that one day children of all ages will be able to walk to school, go to their classes, participate in after-school activities, and then either return home without fear of being beat up, or having their money or other personal belongings stolen from them. Or living with the pressure of having to surrender their hard work on their studies to someone who thinks he or she is entitled to instill fear into another human being.

I hope and pray that young children will be influenced at an early age with the knowledge that everyone deserves respect and to be treated with dignity. Bullying can rob a person of their dignity, and that it will not even be necessary to fight, but if it happens to become necessary that they will stand up for themselves, and fight an honest fight for their honor. And the best thing they could bring home with them from a fight is a black eye that they received not just for putting their hands up in self defense, but because they did it for dignity, respect and they showed true courage by doing it while afraid.

No one of any age should fall victim to a bully. Whether the bullying acts are physical or mental, there should be a "zero" tolerance for it in any form in our schools. Most schools and social organizations have implemented stringent rules for overly aggressive behavior in students and that is a very good thing. We should take the responsibility for leading by example and showing our grandchildren how wrong it is to cause bodily harm to each other, and how devasting it could be to live under threatening circumstances. Together, we can STOP BULLYING!!

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