■ By David Porter / Contributed
I’ve been reading a lot about bullying lately and realize now that I was bullied a lot more in school than I ever realized. It wasn’t really a problem for me because my self-esteem was high enough to counterbalance it.
Sure, I got picked last for dodgeball and pickup baseball games, but I didn’t think it was because people didn’t like me. It was because I wasn’t very good. I would have picked me last, too.
I got picked on a little, I guess, but I was fortunate that I never thought of it as systemic. I wasn’t picked on by everybody; just a couple of people who weren’t really worth my time, anyway. My perception was that they’re picking on me because they lack something in their lives.
To be honest, I did my share of picking on others, too. I’m not proud. That’s all part of growing up.
But before you start to think that this is a bully apologist piece, let me stop you right there. Bullying is real, and it’s real dangerous. It leads some kids to hurt themselves. It leads some to hurt others.
Some people want to blame video games, the breakdown of the family unit and the decline of religion. I don’t think they’re categorically wrong, but I don’t think the problem can be so neatly packaged. I can tell you from personal experience that not every emotionally distressed kid comes from a broken home or one void of religion.
We look for commonalities among bullies and school shooters as if changing those factors will change everything. We run the risk of missing the unique characteristics that may be the bigger triggers.
Perhaps in contradiction of what I just wrote, I want to hone in on one issue that I see over and over. And it’s not a characteristic of the bully or bullied; it’s a characteristic of many of the rest of us in how we view and react to bullying. We lack empathy. We fail to validate other people’s feelings. We talk when we should listen.
“We look for commonalities among bullies and school shooters as if changing those factors will change everything. We run the risk of missing the unique characteristics that may be the bigger triggers.”
I started out by saying how I didn’t feel bullied. Therefore, I wasn’t bullied. However, if I had felt bullied, then I would have been because bullying isn’t just about the acts of the bully but also the feelings of the bullied.
You can disagree whether an action rose to the level of bullying, but for the bullied, it’s often a series of smaller actions that cumulatively lead to the feeling of being bullied. And when we fail to acknowledge that, we miss an opportunity to be helpful, and create an opportunity to be hurtful.
I do think that a lot of people who feel bullied may need to work on their own defensive mechanisms, but it starts with the validation that their feelings are real.
I’ve known a lot of people over the years who felt bullied or inadequate or small. They lived in the “Valley of the Misfits.” But they overcame their perceived shortcomings by finding something that made them feel good about themselves. One took karate lessons. Another excelled in photography. One used his own empathy toward others to build a career in human services.
We can’t fix all the problems for all the people. Changing others is often out of our reach. But we can all change one thing about ourselves. So, I would encourage those who feel bullied to look inside themselves and focus on what is right and good about them.
Bullying is all about exploiting weaknesses. So those who feel oppressed need to find their strengths. Happiness ultimately comes from within ourselves. If you can’t find the happy in yourself, no one else is going to find it, either.
People need to take responsibility for their own happiness but sometimes they need help discovering the tools to be able to do that. As adults and school administrators, counselors and mentors, that starts with empathy and validation. You can’t help a kid feel better about himself if you don’t believe that his feelings are real.
Copyright 2018 by David Porter who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you’re picking teams for a baseball game, I’m still not very good.