A couple days ago, I blogged about liberating myself from the pressures of trying to measure up physically to the standards of people who would never grant approval. The mention in that post of some of the people who had bullied me about my appearance (among other things) sparked a separate conversation on Facebook between a group of friends from that same school who still harbored strong feelings about their time on the receiving end of similar bullying.
We each recalled favorite moments – one person remembered a death threat in a yearbook. I remembered seeing some of the most disgusting anti-Semitic behavior I had ever seen in real life directed at a girl who would become one of my best friends. I know we all remembered being laughed at one morning as our group of social rejects waited for early rides home as we mourned the suicide of a friend the night before.
One person offered a quote that I’ve heard many times since those days – “Living well is the best revenge,” and I thought about the people who had joined the chat. One, despite years of verbal abuse by the ‘in’ crowd, has gone on to get her PhD in Biology. Another, an amazing artist who endured a severe beating for the crime of being suspected of being gay, has gone on to work at a school helping foster the creativity of other artists. Others who did not join our conversation but have, despite living through four years of racial or anti-Semitic slurs, gone on to top-notch schools and are doing great things.
We are all living well. But the bullying stays with us.
I don’t think any of us wants or ever wanted revenge (well maybe I had a few fantasies). But living well doesn’t diminish the impact of those years on our psyches and self-confidence, and it got me to wondering. What ever happened to the bullies?
I know they were never punished in high school, even though they often perpetrated their abuse in full view of the ‘grown-ups’. The culture of ‘boys will be boys’ was still in its hey-day, and bullying was a rite of passage for the so-called strong. I reject the idea that some kids need to be cannon fodder in order to build up the confidence of others, but I also feel pity for those who built at least part of their identities on torturing others. Do they even remember their actions or understand the hurt they caused? Does it bother them, or do they just accept it as part of ‘growing up’? Do they think of themselves as good people despite the very intentional hurt they caused and the pleasure they seemed to derive from it or do they know that they are in fact bullies?
I don’t know, so even though I’m not very religious, I offer this prayer for them.
I pray you feel some remorse for the pain you inflicted when you laughed at a group of misfits as they mourned the suicide of friend the night before.
I pray when you do feel remorse that it only makes you a little uncomfortable and does not give you even a fraction of the pain you caused us.
I pray your child never experiences the misery of knowing someone like you were.
I pray you forgive yourself if he or she comes home crying because someone has the same things to them that you said to so many others.
Most of all, I pray that you and I will stop this cycle of bad acting and teach our children, above all, to first be kind.