I was bullied as a child.
I was bullied as a teenager and a young adult.
I even think I have been bullied as an older adult.
And now, as I remember the words of a woman I met when she was in her late seventies and lived to be 99, “At my age, I can say whatever I want”.
At least on this topic, I think it is realistic to say, I can safely speak my mind about my experiences.
I went to a Catholic elementary school in a working class neighborhood. I was a scrawny kid who wore glasses, got good grades, and had parents who volunteered a lot of time to that school and church. I was called “teacher’s pet” for years and spent many a school day firing how I was going to make it home without getting my butt kicked because someone in my class thought I got them in trouble with the teacher, wouldn’t let them cheat from me on a test, or because I put my lunchbox down too close to theirs. The boys in my class were hurtful and the girls were mean. Some of the “cool” girls tried over the years to be protecting or at least not joining in on the bullying but that usually gave way to the, being threatened. So their efforts ceased and they stood by while the taunting went on. I got beat up on the way home several times and cried because I couldn’t imagine how to tell my parents that my glasses were broken again. My 8th grade teacher kept me after school on Halloween to talk about being Editor of our yearbook. But because “The Gang” of boys was waiting outside the school to throw eggs and more, she drove me home from school to keep me safe. That Josephite nun always showed me such kindness and always pushed me to do the best I could. But her kindness in driving me home that day only resulted in more taunting throughout my last year in that school.
I played softball in grammar school and the girls only wanted the “star” player to pitch. Once were losing so badly that the coach pulled the “star” pitcher and put me in to pitch. Loosing by almost 10 runs, I pitched my best and struck out one or two batters. But if the ball made contact with the bat, I was done for. My “teammates” would let the ball roll through their legs, drop a fly ball or let the runners advance without even trying to play fairly. The coach reprimanded the entire team but it did no good. She pulled me and put the “star” back in. We lost anyway. The parents in attendance said nothing to any of their daughters during or after the game – that was that.
The bullying continued when I went to the local high school. The tough kids from another section of our neighborhood liked to intimidate people in the hallways and every day was another challenge to stay out of their way. I was a “nerd” – honors classes, music lessons, church volunteer – none of it was “cool” back then.
But then a class called “Leadership” was offered. I jumped at the chance to work on all extracurricular events the Leadership class was responsible for. With senior year came empowerment, as we all were the class leaders. The concept of being bullied was gone as we were the ones accepted and the people who got things done. College years and never a thought of being bullied.
Just when you think its over…
I began teaching at a Catholic elementary school. Faculty meeting on the first day – all new teachers were told, “Ladies, make sure that even if you have a ring on your finger, you are saying ‘No'”. Bullying takes on a new name – intimidation. With a morals clause written into out contracts, I can’t really call this bullying, but you knew she meant business. I found put on the successive months that who I socialized with, who I befriended and what I did after work was up for these intimidation tactics by the principal. I left that school that same year.
The principal at the next school was an old family friend who was a ton of fun but took bullying right back to when I was in elementary school – which was where I knew him. I spent more time being reprimanded in his office as a teacher than I ever was when I was in elementary school. “Don’t teach this”, “Don’t call the parents by the last names”, “You MUST have a Halloween Party for your class” (fist fights among students aside), and more. My pay was docked when I took a personal day to attend the funeral of a close mutual family friend. Day-to-day it all was too much – too much to list here. One day when you have a few days, I’ll tell you. I left that job after four years.
I opened a business with my best friend. The bullying continued with vendors who felt like they were doing me a favor to do the work and have me pay them; some customers who felt that however insane their request, my partner and I were just to “do it”; some accounts that would change the rules on the jobs we were doing right as we were finishing up. I have teenage staff members tell me that “I had a lot to learn” and I have had business associates repeatedly tell me that the work I do is passable at best – they can always find someone to do a better job for less money.
In addition to the bullying, I have been profiled as “prejudiced” because I am white; I have been spoken slowly to because I look more Hispanic than Italian in a mostly Italian area and second guessed when I say that I am one of the business’ owners.
Bullying in the NFL? A good thing he walked away. A bad thing as he may have given up the career he loves.
Bullying in schools? Try to tell a teenager that “It gets better” – it’s so hard when your world seems to be crashing in around you.
Gay bashing? Racial profiling? Sexual harassment? Why should anyone have to compromise him or herself for the stupidity of another?
It may not necessarily get better – but it does get different; sometimes, it even becomes empowering. One day you just have to realize that all that matters is what YOU make matter – small people, small minds. Realize your potential – screw everyone else. Carve out your own space in this world and have confidence in the one person who will never leave you …..