Ah, bullying. Is there anything more wonderful? There’s nothing like spending a day in school being verbally torn apart by kids that are bigger and mouthier than you. And without reprieve! Yes, it’s the gift that keeps on giving.

I write that with a comical sarcasm but there really is a gold mine of value and opportunity in the bullied/bullying situation, and the rewards are more than worth the “investment cost,” so to speak. Not in the moment. Holy skittlebits, no. It’s absolute hell in the moment. The good stuff comes later. That is, if you don’t waste the streetwise education on bitterness and regret.

These accidental soldiers of the playground are just getting their feet wet in the chaos that is the entire rest of our lives. And fortunately they have the time to spare to build the skills to react and reflect in constructive ways. But they can’t do it on their own, and we sure as hell can’t do it for them. No, we need to let these brave souls work it out for, and between, themselves.

It’s all too easy to write off the victims of bullying as someone that needs to be saved, and those that bully as someone that needs to be stopped. But it’s worth a look at why these are not the only options, and more importantly, why they’re not very good options.

Life is a very confusing mess, at best, and hell at worst. It’s a beautiful, perfect confusing mess. But a mess none the less. The dynamics of the schoolyard are typically the first place that a person has to deal with anything representing the “real world,” or what us grownups call “life.” You’re not at home any more getting applauded for using scissors without severing an artery, you’re a beginner in a gaggle of emotionally immature monsters that love to be loud and love to win.

I mean, really, we all love those things somewhere inside of us. It’s just that children lack the inhibitions to hold it back and tuck it in. So there is this twister of youth and insanity that establishes hierarchy in the ways you’d probably expect: clumsily and with a lot of tears.

It’s tragic to see a child being tormented. And it’s usually by a person, or many people that are much bigger than them. So of course there is a strong desire as and adult to swing in to save them. But going in to wag a finger at the tormenters will only shoo them away for that one instance, and it will usually come on stronger the next time since they have now seen that “little baby needs someone to come take care of him!”

Now, I can tell you that it does feel good being saved by an adult when you’re being stared down by some loudmouth smartass. In fact it feels great! Seeing a teacher walk out and the bully sees them but a little too late to stop, then they get in trouble for their actions and you’re holding back the laughter so they don’t knock your teeth out next time they see you.

But it doesn’t feel independent. And it doesn’t grow any power within yourself. It’s a dangerous social crutch to lean on because when you don’t know the tools to take care of yourself you’ll start to wish intensely for an adult to walk out at all the neediest moments instead engaging the situation and using your own fantastic self to solve a serious problem.

If you’re an adult and you’re a teacher, (or some other role that looks after younger folk,) please do not read this as a push to let kids get the snot beaten out of them. Or be called names that are usually only relegated to camaraderie on construction crews. No. If you see something going on, definitely go do something about it. But, please understand the implications of only going this far and no farther.

Any human being that lets terror rain down on them must lack some awareness. Maybe it’s awareness of themselves and who they are; this could help them gain a little perspective on just why they’re an awkward fit in the social ladder. Maybe it’s an awareness of why some people are so terrible; this could help them see that it is just another human being taunting them, not some superior master of interpersonal dominance.

I know that these messages are commonly offered to socially destitute kids, but kids tend not to do the listening thing as well as your lessons might require. You know who should have some listening skills carved into their psychology? You. You’re all grown up and you interface with young folk. You can start a dialog and help them to figure out their own problems out loud.

It’s incredible how well people can discover their ability to solve their own problems when guided out of their own minds. That’s a power that awakens some of the most powerful parts of you, and there are many people that live their whole lives never having learned it’s even there in the first place.

The bright side of the equation comes as the years pile up and lift you into adulthood. Once I was old enough that the bullying subsided I started to relax enough to see the gifts it was offering. It’s funny how memory will capture just a few seconds of a moment so many years ago. Something that seems significant for one reason or another can marinate in your mind for so long, revealing more as your perspective grows and shines new light on it…

I was working a pizza delivery job right after high school and one of my coworkers was friends with one of the bullies of my past. But not just a bully, he was the last bully. The only one still leaning into it in the last year of high school. All his friends had stopped giving me a hard time and started to get sick of him calling me horrendous names. Not on my account, it’s just that we were all growing up. Almost all of us, anyway.

But less than a year out of school and I heard that he was spending a fair amount of time in bars getting drunk and picking fights with older, bigger men. I remember that made me sad, which was kind of a surprise. At first I thought I’d like to hear that he was out getting his teeth rattled, but upon hearing the news I realized how trapped he must be in an emotional hell. What he had dished out on me was only a small taste of what he must be living every day.

I don’t know what his situation is, but I’m guessing that his never ending drive to belittle people in the hallways and his post-school efforts to outweigh older men are indicative of some kind of problem with a father figure. The kind where he wasn’t free to rule any part of his own life at home so he goes out and rules everyone else’s in a desperate but fruitless attempt to equalize the situation.

And I do remember back in middle school when I heard he was dating a girl I had known since we were very young. She talked about how cute he was asking her out, and then later on how sad he was when she ended it… I was grateful even then to learn of this softer side of him. It helped to know it was there, to know he was my equal in that way and not just some pain-slinging beast.

I don’t think I would have understood these aspects of the other side of the fence anywhere near as well as I do now had I not been through the roller coaster of being victimized and had the up-close and personal time with him through it all. I owe him a debt of gratitude for the lesson in empathy. And do I ever hope that his life has found a little more peace since then.

I am grateful to have learned more about empathy through those that meant to do me harm. I am also grateful to have learned about resilience simply by seeing what I could survive through the years of schoolyard hell.

What about you? What caused you trouble growing up and what gifts did it end up giving you in your life? Let me know in the comments section below!

Thank you for stopping by. Keep looking on the bright side!

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  1. This is a polarizing topic for sure and I’m undecided about my thoughts on it. I have been on both sides. I still feel terrible how I treated others as a kid, and still andnhoping to run into one guy while holding a bat.

    I do know I agree that kids need to stick up for themselves but bullying today is at a another level – or at least it seems like it.

    Having three daughters, it is amazing and disheartening to see how many kids struggle and do self-harm.

    Thanks for sharing this and having me pause to give it some serious thought.

    1. Thank you for sharing. It’s difficult for anyone to come to agreement, even with the different sides of our own mind, on a topic that is so emotionally charged. And it becomes particularly complicated when it concerns our own children – the need to protect is rooted in our biology, after all.

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