I remember it well.
I had a bottom locker in seventh grade (a grade that is notorious for its misery… José Luis Vilson calls it the bottom of the parabola, the lowest point in a student’s career in terms of security, identity, and respect. That also makes it a turning point for the rest of their student career though, doesn’t it?) and this kid, Carl had the locker above me. Every day, he being bigger, faster, and stronger than myself, would push, shove, and crowd me out of my locker. It was impossible for me to make it to classes on time. He’d linger there, mocking me with his friends. I don’t even know what I did to earn their spite. I was a know-it-all for sure, a nerd and social outcast, and it didn’t help my situation that I din’t play any sports. Instead, I was a band-kid.
One day, when I had miraculously managed to get to my locker before Carl, he came up and slammed my locker on my hand. Geez. It hurt, a lot. Luckily fingers are thick enough, and the gap between the door and wall of a locker narrow enough that it didn’t shut and lock on my fingers (have you had that happen with a car door? It’s miserable).
Looking back now, recounting this story, makes me wonder why I remember it so well. If it were to happen to me know, it would turn out much differently. Instead of leaving the scene, almost in tears, and trying to forget about it during my next class, maybe I would stand up to him, find a way to advocate for myself, or heck, just laugh it off. That pain is going away soon and he didn’t do any permanent damage.
I’ve got thicker skin now.
But back then, Carl had power over me. I didn’t stand a chance. I didn’t have any means of protecting myself, and I was scared of going to a teacher and ending up a “snitch.”
If that’s my story, then why in the world would I want to empower bullies, or rather children who bully, when I walk into a classroom? Wasn’t it Carl’s power over me that allowed him to exercise cruelty when I went to my locker every day?
It was. But what circumstances made Carl feel like he needed to bully me? Bullying is a learned behavior (Pacer, 2015). What if the bullying that Carl did came from something other than me being a dweeb (mind you, I was a dweeb, but that’s not an excuse to bully someone). I’m mostly just thinking out loud here. I’m not an expert. But, what if the problem isn’t the “bully.” In my experience, the old adage, “hurt people, hurt people,” holds true. Children who bully, bully because of something outside of themselves, not because they are inherently malicious people. Instead of treating them like they are bullies, what if we treat them like students, children, who have something that makes them need to express power over other people?
This is something that gets me pretty fired up. I was bullied, and if I had to guess, I probably bullied people sometimes. But if there was a way to support children so that they wouldn’t feel the need to bully, then you support the kids being bullied as well. You kill two birds with one stone, and open the door to having conversations that support people, that open dialogues to help people to understand one another.
Maybe I’m being crazy optimistic, which is out of character for me. I know that we aren’t able to eliminate bully behavior completely.
But what if?
Note: Carl’s name wasn’t Carl… as they say, names have been changed to protect the innocent.
Image Credit –Thank you Bill Watterson for enriching my childhood via Calvin & Hobbes. I needed them.