[Part 4 in a series]
Looking at my partner—a mature, responsible Lutheran Democrat who relays phone calls for the deaf and hard of hearing of Texas and volunteers every Saturday at a low-cost spay and neuter animal clinic—you’d never know she was a bully in school.
“Were you ever bullied?” I asked one night as I began preparing to write this series.
She paused, then said, “No, I was probably the bully.”
“Really?” I said with a surprised shriek.
She seemed equally surprised. She’d never thought much about it until all the stories of Phoebe Prince surfaced and we began to talk more about our individual school experiences.
I’ve always thought anyone with half a heart could spot a bully a West Texas mile away. Now I’m not so sure. And knowing my partner, I’m convinced that she is one of those people statistics cite who don’t realize just how hurtful and harmful their harassment is to their peers—who blow off their behavior as good, old-fashioned teasing.
Were you, or are you, a bully? Have your ridiculing words or physical actions caused others pain?
Let’s be clear: There ARE mean people in the world who find pleasure in hurting their peers. They know what they’re doing, and they do it with a powerful sense of gratification.
Studies indicate, though, that the majority of bullies were once victims of bullies themselves—many simply doing what was done to them without a second thought. Could the majority of bullies be truly that clueless about the impact of their actions? Could you have been a bully yourself and not even known it?
To find out, let’s all answer one of those dopey questionnaires. Ready? Have you ever:
• Hit, kicked, pushed, back-slapped, tripped a peer?
• Pulled someone's hair or spit at them?
• Called a peer names, or verbally ridiculed him or her in front of friends or before strangers in public?
• Mocked a person’s voice or walk, regardless of whether he or she was present?
• Knocked books out of a classmate’s arms?
• Taken property and refused to give it back—or made your peer do something humiliating and embarrassing to get the property back?
• Taken and purposefully broken someone’s property?
• Pressured others to join in on teasing or hitting someone?
• Alienated a peer from a social circle or group game?
• Threatened others so that they wouldn’t intervene on behalf of a bullied peer?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, sorry to break it to you, but you are, or have been, a bully.
It’s not too late, though, to change your behavior—to make amends. If you’re truly remorseful, here are some ideas on how to cleanse your karma:
• Apologize immediately for past behavior and DO NOT REPEAT that behavior again. If you say you’re sorry but repeat the same actions, it hurts your peers even more—and you lose integrity.
• The next time a peer is being criticized—unfair or not, present or not—say, “That’s bullying, and it’s no O.K. Not now, not ever.” Then walk away.
• Invite the targeted or alienated peer to join your group for lunch or to just sit and talk.
• If you’re in school, tell a teacher or counselor that a peer is being bullied, and that you’re concerned for his or her welfare.
• Avoid hanging out with peers who criticize others because they’re different, especially if they are intolerant of others based on race, religion, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, or disability.
• Forgive yourself for past wrongs.
Humans are incredibly resilient. Many grown adults have survived bullying in school. Some are stronger for it, but for many, it’s still a source of painful memories.
If you’ve been a bully in the past, talk to others who were bullied. Get real clear about the depth of damage your actions might have caused. Then share your realizations with others—especially the youth in the world—and use your experiences as a springboard to a more open dialogue on how to treat peers with respect.
It’s always the right time to make amends for past actions—to others and to yourself. All that is required is a sincere heart and a courageous spirit. You never know: People who have been bullied in the past, like me, might just need to hear a kind word from you today.