I planned on being in the field this morning, but seeing as it's 45F right now and unlikely to get much warmer very fast....I guess Thursday or Friday afternoons will now become my field-times. (I have a meeting, I THINK, at 1:30. I was told I'd be given a packet of information before it and if they expect me to have read it by then, they better get it to me jolly soon.)
Something that came up in my Twitter feed yesterday was the question about the distinction between a bully and a jerk. As someone who has sadly dealt with her fair share of both over the years (more jerks than bullies, but still, a few bullies), my conclusion is that they are two not-entirely-overlapping sets.
Or rather, I think all bullies are jerks, but not necessarily are all jerks bullies. A non-bully jerk is someone who does something like reveal spoilers in front of you after you've expressed plans to go see a movie (especially if it's one with some kind of a twist ending, or some kind of key-to-the-whole-thing in the beginning that some people don't pick up on at first ("Rosebud was his sled!"). Or a jerk is someone who takes two donuts when there's a box of a dozen and a dozen people in the department....it's not that he or she is targeting any specific person, they're just being selfish, and someone's going to wind up left out.
A bully, there's something more there. A bully targets people. A bully uses their greater physical strength, perceived popularity (that's how mean girls do it), or power to belittle or exclude or rough up another person. Usually there's an element of inequality in a bully situation - as I said, bullies tend to be more powerful, more popular, or physically stronger than those they go after. (Which is why, in the old days, the smaller kid who learned to fight and took on a bully - and beat him - usually had not only the admiration of the rest of the school, but in some cases, actually got the bully to stop. Not that I necessarily condone fighting, it's just....it seems a lot of the anti-bullying school programs now don't seem that effective)
(IMHO - and I realize I've only experienced one side of this - the "girl type" bullying is worse. Because it tends to be psychological, rather than physical, intimidation. If a kid knocks you down and bloodies your nose, that may be enough to get the powers-that-be at the school involved in dealing with it. But having ugly rumors spread about you, or being iced out of any of your preferred tables at lunch, or the little backhanded things said in the hall - you can't really go and tell a teacher about those, or you can't really prove what was done).
There's been some talk about bullying in the air this week - a teenager in Florida (I think it was Florida?) killed herself, and it's argued that the online bullying she experienced contributed to her decision. And there's talk of charging the bully-girls' parents (I am of mixed feelings about that. I tend to think if a kid grows up to be really mean to other kids, there's probably something that happened in the parenting phase to allow that....but then again, there are a lot of stupid and awful things teenagers do that their parents are not directly responsible for.) I do tend to think that bullies are allowed to become so because of parental action or inaction. (Then again, I came from a family where, on several occasions, my mother lamented, "I raised you kids to be too *nice*" when one of us got run roughshod by one of the meaner kids at school, or came home upset because of something like a rumor or the junk said to us in the hall....Heh. I remember my mom looking "slut" up in the dictionary to see if there was a possible additional meaning to it after some girls on the bus called me that (I was 10 and hadn't even held hands with a boy). Her final conclusion was that the girls heard the term from an older sibling, didn't really know what it meant, but knew it was "bad," and so, appropriated it as a weapon in their arsenal. It didn't make me feel a LOT better, but now as an adult I think that's probably the correct explanation.)
I don't know. I was bullied to a certain extent as a kid (I think a lot of kids are) but I don't remember ever feeling the sort of total despair that would make ending my life seem a viable option (then again, when I was of an age that such a thing might be more possible - the high school years - I was actually in a much better situation, at a prep school where a lot of the kids were borderline-weird nerds like I was, and so I actually kind of fit in). I do remember thinking a lot:
a. I wish there were more kids like me around
b. I wish I had more friends so I'd have more people to back me up
c. I'll be glad when I grow up and don't have to go to school any more (And yet, I stayed in for about 15 more years than the bare minimum in this country. Though college and grad school are very, very different from public school)
d. I'm glad adults don't act like this. (Actually, I think maybe I got a bit more harassment because I tended to ally with the teachers. I liked most of my teachers and they tended to like me, because I was a good student who wasn't a troublemaker. I think perhaps my please-the-'adults' habits started then - I had written off a lot of my peers because I figured they'd NEVER like me, but the adults did, so best to keep the adults happy, so they'd still like me.....I'm still in some ways a people-pleaser and probably overly-deferential to my elders and people I see as being in positions of authority because of that)
Edited to add: Oh my gosh, oh my gosh. I just realized that in a lot of ways I was Hermione Granger as a kid - smart kid, egghead, read ahead in the books, rule-bound, pushy enough to raise her hand and wave it around when I knew the answer, liked the teachers and often stuck up for them. I got harassed for it more than Hermione seemed to in the books (And really, Ron, it was pretty clear he was sweet on her from the beginning and was just doing the standard pre-adolescent boy likes-a-girl-but-doesn't-know-how-to-relate thing). But yeah. I even had the unruly brown hair, though for a few years it was considerably shorter than she would have worn it.
Well, prep school and onward took care of a and b. (Though I've always been a bit of a loner. I don't have a huge crowd of friends. I don't know why, I just don't.). And eventually c happened, though I will note that school gets progressively better as you move into "grades" where the only people who are there are people who WANT to be there.
Unfortunately, d doesn't really happen. There are still adults who are capable of being bullies, and there are still adults who choose for whatever reason to be a bully. The sad thing is, I've learned that often people with bullying tendencies wind up in positions that have some kind of power over others attached to them. I've dealt with an awful lot of sort of mid-level bureaucrats who realize that their main power over people is requiring them to jump through as many hoops as possible, and not to be exactly congenial during the time the person is jumping those hoops. And it just makes it worse. It's just....it feels unnecessary to me, that while I'm trying to clear a bunch of hurdles that I don't fully see the reason for, that the person who has set them up is kind of standing there with their arms crossed and a smug look on their face (figuratively speaking) and maybe even muttering "Hurry up, you slacker" or something similar. Or that if you forget to dot one i or cross one t, they send the stuff back to you to do it all over again from scratch.
There are people out there who, like Fezziwig in "A Christmas Carol," have "the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil." And some people choose to make their "underlings" (or those they perceive as such) unhappy, and make whatever tasks those people must perform as burdensome as possible. I don't know why. I don't know what kind of pleasure that affords a person.
And I acknowledge, because I'm a professor, and at times I must make students do things they find burdensome: there's a difference between expecting a lot of a person because you want to improve them, or because you think they are capable of better than what they are currently doing. Or because it is experience they must gain (writing. All those months of preparing drafts, handing them in, getting them back all marked up, grumbling, and sitting down to rewrite). But there's a difference between requiring a student to rewrite a paper you think they slacked on, and handing someone back a form they've filled out with a curt, "The signature is 1/4" too far to the right. Redo it." And there's a way to be nice about things even as you're delivering constructive criticism.
I guess the main thing I'm saying, is that bullies will always be with us. Perhaps learning to (a) deal with them and (b) not let them get you down too much may be more useful skills for kids than all the "don't bully" programs in the world. And maybe, also, have some addition where the worst of the worst bullies can be removed from school or something (I do think public schools should be allowed to say, in some cases, "Your child is too much of a threat to others and to the learning process. Either get them help or find another school for them.") and maybe have an option for the really fragile kids, either to help them be able to survive the bullying better or get them somewhere more amenable to their needs. (As I said: high school for me was WORLDS better than junior high, and I think it was because of the difference in the student body and the level of discipline expected. And I wouldn't even have described myself as a particularly fragile kid.)
I mean, bullying shouldn't BE but it IS. We live in a fallen world and have to make the best of it.(And good on the cases where a popular kid is genuinely nice and befriends a bullied kid and helps them. Sometimes you see that.)
I think for "not letting bullies get you down too much," good family relationships or friendships are really important. I think perhaps part of the reason I survived 7th grade (the worst year for me for nasty kids) as well as I did was that I knew, no matter what, my parents loved and valued me, and also, the church we belonged to had a lot of adults who seemed to care about and value me as well - so having people around that I knew thought I was fundamentally OK helped a lot even though I was being told by my peers at school that I WASN'T OK.
Possibly, also, having a rich interior life helps. I read a lot, I made up stories in my head, I played with certain childhood toys to an embarrassingly old age, so I had my escapes.
But it does kind of stink that there are still bullies once you reach adulthood, and sometimes those bullies wind up in a position of power over you.
I once upon a time had a bully for a boss. This person actually made me cry once or twice - she knew exactly what to say to do it. Now, years later, I think what was actually going on was that she was very insecure, the people she was boss over were probably ultimately going to go farther in life than she was, and her nastiness (particularly to the women who worked for her; she didn't seem so awful to the men) was probably a defense mechanism. But what a lousy defense mechanism - it's just bad karma, bad ripples, to try to deal with your own disappointment in life by making other people feel awful on a regular basis.