Bullying as an epidemic, part 3

Latest installment took a while–a few other plot twists and real life got in the way….

OK, so when last I posted, the bullied teen character had been talked off the roof by his parents and they were all wading through the waters of therapy and the “new normal” that follows a suicide attempt.  A few high drama events have stalled the impact of the story, but it seems to be picking back up.  The main bully character’s father awoke from his coma just in time to chastise his son about his bullying behavior, admonishing him to not follow his former example.  He further emphasized to his son that there is no circumstance EVER where someone deserves to be victimized (this particular character was the ringleader of a gang rape when he was a college student, a crime for which he was eventually found guilty and sentenced to prison time; continued interactions with his victim have been all over the map, as each character’s child found their way into a relationship and now have a child of their own–REALLY long and convoluted story).  This caused the bully to roll his eyes and declare that aliens must have taken over his father’s body and made him spout this “feel-good nonsense.”  Considering at the moment there’s a plot line that calls the father’s identity into question, the kid may be right.  This unfortunately lessens the impact of the parental influence, basically nullifying the model parent’s words.

The story has taken a rather interesting turn, however–community support has kicked in.  In many cases, a kid will not believe a high opinion spouted by his or her parents, but hearing the same message from an outside source tends to lend some credibility.  A male adult character overheard a conversation between the bullied kid and his mother, and decides to talk to the kid about his own experiences.  Now this particular character is pretty much eye candy with a sketchy track record in the human decency department–but the writers’ use of him an as example actually made good sense.  Though he has an air of confidence and some modest life successes, his history with a drunken, abusive father and an absent mother colors his views enough to have empathy with the teen.  He recounts his experiences as a scrawny kid with secondhand clothes, being picked on and teased by the kids in his school.  He goes on to tell the boy about getting a construction job over the summer that took care of the scrawniness but added a new problem: some of the boys still gave him a hard time, but now it was because the girls now noticed (and appreciated) his new physique and gave him a different kind of attention.  Given a renewed sense of self by this exchange, the boy later asks his mom about joining a gym to help build him up physically–a first step in the process of regaining his confidence and positive self-worth.  This is leading into another direction where the teen starts to fight back against his bullies (as well as his mom striking her own blows toward them), but I’ll get back to that spin in a later blog.

I want to expand a little more on the influence of outside opinion.  I’ve started reading Letters To A Bullied Girl about Olivia Gardner’s experiences and the efforts of sisters Emily and Sarah Buder to encourage and uplift her.  I’ve read through the forewords and all of the letters from former bullies, and gotten part of the way through letters from fellow bullying victims, most of whom deeply empathize with and relate to her experiences.  One person was a 72 year old former victim teased for the shape of  his nose.  The worldwide scope of this project has given hope to a young girl who might otherwise have believed the taunts hurled at her and reacted negatively–and possibly helped other kids experiencing the same thing.

Barbara Coloroso, author of The Bully, The Bullied and the The Bystander, mentions in her foreword of LTABG that contempt is the primary motivator in bullying behavior.  Contempt, as she defines it, is a powerful feeling of dislike toward somebodyconsidered worthless, inferior, or undeserving of respect–and breeds the atmosphere for bullies to commit heinous acts without any shame or compassion for their targets.  I suppose this explains the how but the why is still beyond my grasp.  What possible experiences could be had in the first decade of life that can encourage a child to vicitimize another, and not only NOT feel bad about their actions but find fun in it?  What kind of culture breeds children with so little respect for authority or peer figures that victimizing others is the thing to do?  And what do we do to change these outlooks?

I’m sure there were other kids in my high school that were teased as mercilessly (if not more) as I was–I distinctly remember some particularly biting criticisms of appearance, intelligence and general behavior quirks that were caricatured in various skits during our Senior Class Night performed the name of “good-natured ribbing.”  And to some extent, I do believe there was not a great deal of intentional malice behind some of the things said and depicted.  That didn’t make them any less hurtful, and I have to wonder whether or not those jabs colored our views of acceptable teasing and bullying behavior in addtion to any damage done to the self-esteem of the intended victims.  I know I still see shades of that “bright-skinned, bald-headed majorette” regardless of how many people tell me I’m beautiful, obsess over the “fat girl” in the mirror no matter how many people wish they could be “skinny” like me, and wonder whose judgmental eye looks down on my hairy arms and legs–the one physical feature that doesn’t bother me save for the stark contrast of dark hair to light skin.  In the end, I guess I’m just trying to figure out the best way to accept myself as a worthwhile and damn fabulous human being while trying to understand our past behaviors and their current mutations–and how to best reconcile both.

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