As you probably know, I’m very anti-bullying and very pro-empathy. Sometimes I’m a little too empathetic.

Given what we know about the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin situation with the Miami Dolphins, it proves that bullying never stops, and people don’t grow out of bullying. It’s not just a meanness thing, it’s an insecurity thing.

It’s a power thing, too  – a person is so certain of his or her own self-importance, yet has no self worth, or are threatened, and gain a false sense of entitlement by belittling someone else.

A colleague of mine groaned and made a comment about the “wussification” of America, and I thought, well, how would you feel if someone belittled you every day?

Heck, at my last workplace, I had a bully, and I was hesitant to stand up to the bully for fear of “upsetting the apple cart.” Finally, a male coworker recently told me, “I’d never have let it get to that point.” And at that point, I felt as if I’d been granted permission to stand up to workplace bullies. Not that I haven’t stood up to people before, but I finally had a coworker put himself in my shoes.

Among the things I’ve taken from the Incognito-Martin feud: Male bullying is overt, while female bullying is covert.

Girls wouldn’t tell another girl that they’d shit in their mouth. They’d tell them their lipstick made them look too pale. Or they wouldn’t invite them out, when they’d invited everyone else out. Or that the story they worked on wasn’t worthy of being run on A1, despite all the hard work that was put into it. That’s something the bully at my last workplace did.

I’ve forgiven her for being such a horrible coworker and for behaving horribly towards me, and I know I didn’t do anything to provoke her. Sometimes I wish I would have just cornered her and asked her what her problem was with me. But there’s one thing I think of when someone brings her up to me. (I won’t name the woman who bullied me in the workplace. She knows who she is. That’s on her conscience.)

Charlie Batch, a former NFL quarterback, recently posted this on his Facebook page. There’s truth in this statement from Maya Angelou:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

And that’s the problem with bullies. They likely never consider how someone else feels. Their only concern is for their own feelings.

 

This one’s for you, my friend

So I told a less-than-glowing story about bullying earlier this week, and I hope it inspired someone to stand up for themselves. Likewise, I hope it caused a few bullies out there in the world to consider their past actions.

But today, let me share the story of one of my dearest friends – who, at one point, sometimes made me her target of ridicule. I wasn’t very nice to her, either. It took years and distance for us to see our differences and realize that we were both wrong, on some level or another.

When you read about the aftermath of bullying – some of it has been tragic, such as the suicide of Phoebe Prince or that of Jamey Rodemeyer (Yale University studies have found that victims of bullying are up to nine times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims) – you have to wonder if there is closure. There is, for some.

I had known her since the first grade and we didn’t treat each other very well. In the fifth grade, I had enough of her crap, and the crap of the three girls who always stood behind her when she approached me. I told her so. She slowly began to create distance from me after that, and we both gave each other a certain amount of respect – something you don’t see often among pre-teenagers or teenagers.

Then, in the ninth grade, she and her family moved across the country. And I was sad to see her go. Someone who I knew for nine years but whom I did not know well enough to call a friend at the time. Still, I would miss seeing her in the halls every day. She was one of a small (and getting-smaller) group of us who began elementary school together, and with whom I expected to graduate from high school.

Nearly 20 years later, here’s that Facebook thing again – we had enough mutual friends that she came up in the “friends you may know” category. That pesky Facebook …

I don’t remember who reached out to whom, but at first, I was conflicted about it. Still, I gave her the benefit of the doubt and told her, “Things weren’t the same at our school after you left, and I always wondered what you were doing.”

A funny thing happened. She admitted to me years later that she moved away and that she had found out who she really was. And she apologized to me. And I apologized to her. I told her, “I forgive you.” Because I did.

Today, I call the person who used to antagonize me “my friend.” I look forward to every email, text message and funny card I receive from her. In fact, she sent me an email this morning and I read it over coffee, wishing she and I (and her baby son and husband) could have coffee together soon. I am honored to be able to learn about her and to be able to share my life with her. She  is an intelligent, caring, funny, inquisitive and loving mother, woman and friend.

***

From a TeenHelp.org forum, the honesty of a former bully:

I will not deny it – people have a right to know what I have done…how cruel I have been to someone who absolutely did not deserve this and how many times I have hurt him so deeply that he will possibly never fully get over it although I would now do anything for him he wants to make atonement – but I know even that will never be enough. I endlessly regret it now and I will for the rest of my life mourn it and feel absolutely sorry. I blame no-one who despises me because of what I have done or wishes that I will never again be happy in my life or that something really bad will happen to me. I cannot blame anyone because I actually despise and hate myself because of it.

There was NO reason, justification or excuse for bullying someone in the ways I did – there never is. All I can say is that I tried and am still trying so very hard to repair at least a part of the damage and suffering that I have caused.

The bully found me … years later

The problem with Facebook? You run into some of the people you want to avoid.

Last night, the bully came back to me by sending me a friend request on Facebook.

Let’s talk frankly about the bully. What does the bully have to gain from putting other people down, other than those few moments of feeling better about themselves at the expense of someone else?

A few statistics about bullying, per the CDC:

  • In a 2009 nationwide survey, about 20% of high school students reported being bullied on school property in the 12 months preceding the survey;
  • During the 2007-2008 school year, 25% of public schools reported that bullying occurred among students on a daily or weekly basis. A higher percentage of middle schools reported daily or weekly occurrences of bullying compared to primary and high schools.

Among the root issues of bullying: low self-esteem, the need for personal validation, lack of respect in the home or lack of assertiveness in interpersonal situations.

But statistics aside, here’s a rhetorical question: what justifies bullying, if anything?

We’ve been reading all about anti-bullying initiatives and tolerance, and while these are great values to espouse, we need to teach kids something else: stand up for yourself. Something I didn’t do years ago … but something I had to do now.

The bully had gym class with me. She used to ask me very pointedly, in front of her friends and our classmates, if I showered at all, if I had any friends, about my sexuality, how much I weighed, why I even bothered to show up to school, why I wore certain clothes … basically trying (and sometimes succeeding) in driving a stake through my self-esteem.

via girlshealth.gov

We have 12 mutual friends, all from high school. She didn’t send a note, just a friend request.

There was nothing left to lose. Years later, I was ready to stand up for myself – something I couldn’t do 20 years ago, for whatever reason: fear of being socially ostracized, fear of detention, fear of – gasp! – causing a scene in the locker room.

But sometimes you need the closure. Point blank, I asked her:

What did you gain from making fun of me that year?

She wrote back:

I don’t know what to say except I’m sorry. It truly makes me feel terrible to think that I said or did anything mean to you in the eighth grade. Honestly, I was just a girl trying to fit in, and really didn’t have many friends back then. So, to answer your question, I’ve gained exactly nothing from my past behavior.

You found me. You gave me the answer I needed to hear. And you’re right. You gained nothing.

And because of our communication, I’ve forgiven her.