Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Nature of Bullying

One summer in my childhood, when my family and I were preparing to visit family in India, a priest who knew my mother called her to ask if she would give his family a cheese wheel from him when she was there. My mother agreed, not knowing it would be almost as large as one of our suitcases. When she saw the cheese wheel for herself, she politely refused to pack it for obvious reasons. The priest was furious with her, and never treated us kindly after that. The problem was that because my mother is so nice, he thought he could tell her what to do and she would oblige, no matter how inconvenient the request. He and many others taught me about the nature of bullying, and the lessons still resonate with me today.

It is generally believed that being nice is equal to weakness, even though most of us would not admit it openly. I was once seen as both too kind and easy to manipulate, and I admit that I was in the past. I realize now that true benevolence comes from strength, not weakness. I was afraid to stand up for myself when I was bullied as a child in school, because I thought I would make things worse if I did. I was awkward in my own skin, a minority in my mostly white Roman Catholic grammar school, and the teachers were also part of the problem.

Bullying has made national news again with the suicide of a college freshman and the actions that probably led to this devastating end. I think about the bullies in my life, and realize that they taught me how not to treat other people and to speak out against the behavior, even when others are not supportive. I’m not afraid to stand up for myself and others who are the targets of bullying, even if I am not seen as a nice person because of it. I know who I am now, and no one’s contradictions can change that.

What are your thoughts on bullying?

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