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Thursday, May 29

Some Thoughts on Bullying

I was bullied at school. Wait, is that a violin I hear playing? Great. Strap in.

I guess a lot of people find themselves the subject of someone else's power games. There's often a complementary relationship between the bully and the bullied. The bully needs to assert power over someone who won't win. The bullied ought to be someone who feels the need to be liked and who draws their own strength from the support of others to some extent. I say "ought" in as much as it works for the bully when their victim is like this.

I don't think people ought to bully each other. It's horrible. It's also easy for one's actions to escalate into outright oppression of others, especially online. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

At school, I carried around the knowledge that I was the butt of other people's jokes. I was a little fat kid who just wanted to be liked and couldn't stand up for himself. In the end I developed the ridiculous outgoing side that I've latterly converted into the stand-up comedy side of my personality. By getting the jokes in first, I distracted attention away from the victimisation that I felt would appear sometime soon.

And some people at school were pricks to me. I probably forgive them all. I remember when some people I generally got on with had a "be a bastard to Ashley day". Tossers. I kind of remember it fondly because it was probably funny if you weren't on the receiving end. It wasn't a great day for me. And these guys were pretty much my mates.

I stood up for myself once. There was one kid who enjoyed showing his status at my expense. Let's call him JR, though that wasn't his name (it's his initials in reverse). I don't know what it was about the power relationship between us, and it's probably quite trivial if seen in the cold light of my 40 year old man's day. However, at the time he was my tormentor. On one occasion I'd had enough. I grabbed him by the hand and shook his arm up and down until he started to cry.

We were maybe 6 or 7.

Standing up to bullies is a good thing. Right? Well, I think it probably is, but not getting embroiled in their games in the first place is even better. However, in this case, the dice fell strangely. I was heavily rebuked by the teacher. She looked at the sizes of the two children, looked at the crying one and the slightly jubilant one. She told ME off for being a bully.

As a young lad who was scared of authority and wanted to be doing the right thing (even when I'm pretty sure looking back that they were inconsistent, puritanical and draconian), this was one of the worst feelings I recall. I felt too many conflicting emotions - the guilt of having been in trouble, the deflating triumph having had my dreams of winning against my victim status stolen, the fury that this really wasn't fair, and the renewed feeling of being a small easily trodden on person - even those people who should help and protect me were adding to the problem.

If anyone ever makes my beloved darling daughter feel this way, at any age, I'll probably fly into a blind rage. What that means in my case, is a dark brooding staring and that gnarling fight or flight instinct fighting for control in my body. I'm not given to violent or angry outbursts.

Why bring any of this up?

It's been a week where I've been constantly checking my online communications to see what's happening next. There have been two versions of this. I've been foolishly engaging in political disagreements on Twitter. This generally goes nowhere good and escalates into a slanging match, with the followers of the most obnoxious retweeting and favouriting things in the background, almost like a rabble of school bullies grunting. I'm stupid for entering these debates, and not exactly being unconfrontational myself. Usually, I'm polite and enquiring, and I get derision, abuse and attack for my troubles. Note to self: stop doing this, it's annoying and unproductive.

The most odd event of the week was definitely the culmination of a rather curious online conversation. I have said all I'm going to say for now on the intercourse between myself and the other person - you can see the full transcript, and I've deliberately not put a director's commentary on it so people can make up their own minds.

Today someone, who had requested my Facebook friendship, decided to use this connection to have a go at me about the above online conversation. They accused me of bullying. They deliberately crossed as many boundaries as they could. They may have been fictional. This person had the ability to send me a photo of the other person - who was probably in the room with them. I've half a mind to wonder whether the person getting in touch was simply a pseudonym of the comedian whose conversation I published.

In short, as a 40 year old man, sitting in his family home, I was drawn back to the scenario where someone is poking and prodding at me. The fact that I can probably brush it off and walk away is the benefit of my age. The fact that I have to, is the oddest experience. If you're being bulled, stalked, or generally interfered with, perhaps here are some of the feelings you experience, as I've been doing.

  • Why me?
  • What did I do?
  • Will this lead to actual harm?
  • Why are they criticising me this way?
  • Is their criticism right? Should I be trying to make something up to them?
  • Who's on my side?
  • Who's on their side?
  • What's behind all this?
  • How do I make it stop?
  • Can I emerge from this the victor?
  • Will I remain the loser in this situation no matter what I do?
What would be horrible for me is to imagine that my own rather brusque tone can make other people feel this way. I'm probably going to end up a grumpy old man and perhaps the chemistry I have with some people puts them into exactly the above pattern of thoughts/feelings. I'm certainly a hard person to please.

I'm deeply suspicious of people who use and practice comedy. I've been the subject of various wind-ups and prank calls over the years (this isn't quite fictional) and I refuse to be the kidder that could be kidded. I know when something smells funny and I won't play along. This competitive nature sucks me into some situations deeper... it could make those situations weirder for the other parties too. So be it.

I'll say one little thing about the subject of approaching near strangers on the internet and having discourse with them. Being able to turn an online/passing acquaintance into a "let's be in the same place together" one, or turning it into "I know where you live" or "here's some thoughts about your personality" or "here's what I know about your family/job/aspirations..." - all of that takes trust. If it's just grabbed at, rather than earned, then the person on the receiving end is going to feel like their boundaries have been crossed.

Writing all of this down makes me feel a bit better about the last few days. I'll continue to block people on Facebook who can't show respect for these fairly obvious boundaries. I'll have a good think about how I want to treat people I contact myself.

We're laughing and learning, but mainly learning and not laughing.

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