The Business of Bullying

This morning I was insulted/bullied on Facebook. It was by a man whom I have never met and who doesn’t know me, and it was on a friend’s Facebook page, not mine. I hedge as to whether or not it was actual bullying, however, after he said nasty things about me he ended it with “LOL” which is the cyber-version of the dreaded playground taunt, “Nah, nah, nah, nah,” or “Naner, naner, naner,” (depending on which part of the country you come from.) As I was mucking stalls this morning I spent a great deal of time thinking about it – not about what he’d said as I couldn’t care less, but about how he said it, and I realized he was the most polite bully I’ve dealt with in a while.

First, he tagged me in the post so there was no question I would realize I’d been insulted online. Nothing had to get back to me second-hand or exaggerated beyond recognition, and the comment conveniently showed up on my Blackberry first thing this morning. Second, being Facebook, I could click on his name, see his page and his picture, and if I was at all mean-spirited, I could quite easily have counter-posted with something equal to his comment, something designed to embarrass and hurt him the way his comment was designed to embarrass and hurt me. The truth is, it was like the old days of being bullied, when I was a kid, when whomever it was who wanted to make me cry stood right in front of me and shouted the nastiest thing they could muster up, then punched me in the back as I turned to walk away. This is going to sound really odd, but this morning’s incident was, well, refreshing in a strange way. As cruel as his intentions were, his “courage” put a little bit of dignity back into the business of bullying.

Nowadays, bullies are the most cowardly pieces of crap on the face on the planet. They lurk on chat pages, taking cover behind pseudonyms. In the worst cases, they relentlessly cyber torture their victims until they’ve destroyed their self-esteem, until their target finally decides there’s no reason left to live and their worthless self takes up too much space on this planet.

A few weeks ago I was horrified (again) to hear about a child, Bart Palosz, a 15-year old from Greenwich, Connecticut, who had taken his own life following years of relentless bullying. A Greenwich Times reporter wrote:

Palosz's Google+ page tells the story of a lonely kid suffering from frequent, often violent, suicidal thoughts. In between posts about anime characters and hunting for pheasants, he discussed his failed suicide attempts and the relentless bullying that precipitated them.

"Hey if I were to stab my eye out due to school caused insanity, who would miss me?" he wrote July 3 beside a photo of himself holding the tip of a knife to his pupil.

Four days later, Palosz posted a goodbye note on the social network.

"I have chosen to go with 3 peoples advice and kill myself," he wrote July 7 after telling his friends on the network that he had swallowed pills. "I just wish it was faster."

 Bart didn’t kill himself that time, but soon enough he would . . .

Now, the really accomplished modern skank of a bully doesn’t stop once their victim has committed suicide and destroyed not only a human life, but the lives of their family, friends and often much of their community. No, no, no . . . read the news and you will learn they continue to spew their hatred and anger (anonymously) on the Internet, to the point where a website (that should exist as a tribute to a fallen angel of a human child) will have to be removed when it becomes choked with venomous commentary that rips family members’ broken hearts right from their chests. Oh, the modern bully is a spectacular machine of destruction, capable of inspiring great shock and awe. The pain they can inflict puts bullies from days of yore to shame . . . and yet, I miss those antique bullies, much the way I miss getting tetanus shots from stepping on rusty nails while playing out in the woods . . . nostalgia . . .

Since Bart Palosz ended his life just a few weeks ago, I have read of other children who also reached the ends of their ropes and committed suicide. And every single time I want to reach right through space and time and shake them and scream, “NO! NO! NO! NO! Don’t give them what they want! DON’T EVER GIVE THE ENEMY WHAT THEY WANT! Give them what they don’t want!” What they DON’T want is for you to ignore them. What they don’t want is for you to SURVIVE! They don’t want you to see past them, to see that life can and will get better, that you will live on and THRIVE! What they don’t want is for you to be HAPPY! YOU HAVE TO DEDICATE YOURSELF TO GIVING THEM EXACTLY WHAT IT IS THEY DON’T WANT! YOU HAVE TO LIVE!!!

Please?

To this very day, the biggest bully of them all, the one who tormented me the most for five years of grammar school to the point where, as a sixth grader, I would sit in the basement with a loaded shotgun on my lap trying to decide if I should end it all just to make her happy (do you see my point? The bullied child ends up more concerned with the bully’s happiness than his or her own? So freakin’ warped!) anyways, this bully STILL posts nasty comments on my blogs and articles about bullying. Anonymously, because, of course, she has progressed with the times and is now an out-and-out coward . . . but she uses all the exact same words and phrases she used as a 12-year old, more than 40 years later. This brings the trolls crawling out of their cesspools to join in . . . and I might glance at what they have to say, but I shrug and go about my life. Because that’s what they don’t want. And at this point I truly don’t care what anyone thinks of me, aside from myself.

Over the years I’ve worked with children who’ve been bullied, and the hardest thing to teach them is that the more they react, the more they feed the bullies. Bullies thrive on not only causing pain, but also on watching the pain they have caused. For everything in their own lives that is out of control, they have complete control of YOU and it’s an addiction that may well be harder to shake than crack cocaine. We do them a huge favor by not feeding their addictions, but oh, how hard it is to stop reacting once those deep ruts of habit have been formed . . .

The next hardest thing to teach a bullied child is that they were chosen as a victim for a special reason. Bullies often select the most sensitive targets, the poets, the thinkers, the geniuses, the ones who will help change the world for the better, if only they survive. I try to make them understand they are chosen because they stand out in some way and that makes them threatening to how ordinary and bland their tormenters are. But it’s brutally hard, because today’s bullies are so darned tenacious and vicious and the Internet is, despite all the good it does for humanity, the greatest bullying tool invented since some chubby sixth-grader named Butch sent the very first spitball sailing across a classroom while the teacher’s back was turned . . .

But I digress . . . because I have a point, and here it is . . . since it seems we must have a world filled with bullies, wouldn’t it be nice to find a way to put civility back into the business? Like my “bully” this morning, who was kind enough to let the entire Internet, if they so cared, see what a jerk he is. Seriously. I mean, really, really refreshing. How do we get bullies to come back out of their closets so we can get a good look at them and view the faces of cowardice? How do we bring back the days before instant electronic communication and put a little bit of courage back into the business of bullying? How do we get our bullies to stand tall and let the entire world observe them, out in the open, in all their glory, unashamed of whom and what they are? Sigh.

Alas, how I miss the good, old days . . . but one in a while, isn’t it nice to remember?

Kathleen Schurman is the owner of Locket's Meadow Farm in Bethany, CT, where she and her husband David take care of more than a hundred farm animals rescued from slaughter and abuse situations. Kathleen is also the author of several children's books and an adult novel. She has held workshops for bullied children using rescued horses to teach them how to deal with their bullies, as well as to rebuild their shattered self-esteem. 

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