Understandably, what has been referred to as bullying has seemed a prominent topic right now. I have seen a number of what I have found heartening responses and outreach in relation to the subject, one of which was today by Rick R. Reed. As I have reflected on what seems this bullying phenomenon I have experienced as prevalent in the media right now, some things have occurred to me.
Seeing children and adolescents act needlessly mean or cruel to each other feels like it rips my heart open. It has for as long as I can remember—even to some degree when I was one. During my pre-teen and early teenage years I felt a target of what has now been dubbed the “mean girls” phenomenon among my peers. I attended a very small school (there were about 21 students in my class), which looking back seems to me very relevant to the situation. I experienced the five girls who were my closest “friends” as arbitrarily and frequently ostracizing me, and given the tiny size of my peer group in the school and the relatively established groups of friends within it, when this happened I felt really all alone at times in the school atmosphere.
Even then, I didn’t like to see other kids being picked on because I felt like I knew how it felt. But I will say that at that age I still halfheartedly participated in it sometimes in a desperate attempt to “fit in” with those who at least as frequently scathingly isolated, verbally attacked, maliciously gossiped about, and appeared to take pleasure in ignoring me. It seemed a vicious cycle in a way, and while I say with all sincerity that kids bullying other kids breaks my heart, I must acknowledge too that that may seem easier for me to say and recognize as an adult than it was to act nobly when I was that age, because I remember sometimes (again, halfheartedly) participating in it too.
I did this because I felt desperately left out, unwanted, unloved, and like it seemed there was no place in the world I could go where I would experience the opposite and feel safe. I do remember sitting by myself one day on the playground and the thought occurring to me, “It won’t always be like this. I won’t always be at this school, with only this group of people. Someday I won’t be trapped in this environment. Someday it will be different. Something will be different.” I really do remember thinking that. I also remember thinking though that at the time, that seemed almost inconceivably far away, and I did not know what I was going to do in the meantime.
I, of course, did not have the additional confusion, possible fear, and seeming target for bullying of feeling any question or (generally, it seemed) external perceptions about the sexual orientation, gender identity, etc., in me. I am only saying that I remember feeling desperately ostracized and manipulated by my peers (mostly female) and utterly powerless to do anything at all to change it. Thus, sometimes, if for a fleeting moment it felt like I was being included, that I wasn’t suffering that horrific loneliness and searing humiliation of what seemed a complete rejection by the people my age with whom I went to school, I might do something I felt less than excited about in order to “hold on” to that feeling—like participate in picking on someone else that my group of “friends” was presently targeting.
The adolescent of a species, including human of course, is by definition not fully developed, but not completely helpless like the infant or child of the species either. It seems to me this could contribute to what makes this seem such a tumultuous time. Human adolescents generally observe some degree of autonomy but are not fully developed yet, and they may feel a sense of overwhelm in the face of the power they do have juxtaposed with that they don’t. I for one feel that they tend to take their cues from those of the species who are fully developed (which is not the same as evolved or aware—just physically fully developed as an adult).
Given what has seemed to me collective humanity’s prominent issues around sexuality (including gender) at this time, it does not seem surprising to me that this area/subject is one around which intense vitriol, ignorance, and aggression have been displayed by youth.
I have literally cried as I have read recent accounts of adolescents exhibiting horrific cruelty and ignorance toward one another. It feels like my heart breaks open—which I let it do, and do my very best to be with. But I look around at how adults treat each other, and even as my heart breaks more—I feel chillingly not surprised.
—If we want to make a lot of money via the media, we follow people who are famous and try to find things out about them that they have not shared with the public, and that we probably wouldn’t want the public finding out about us, and broadcast it indiscriminately. More of us then go on to state our perceptions about that, some of which may seem personally directed and/or even malicious. How frequently do we consider the feelings of the subjects of this kind of scrutiny and/or exploitation?
—If we want to hold political office in America, we leverage as many resources as we can against whomever is running “against” us and then attack that person/people either verbally or through forms of what seem frequently overt manipulation.
—When we don’t like the way another country/culture/society is doing something in the world (however justified we may find that disapproval to be), we go to war with them.
To me, all of these things look in some way like bullying—implicitly, overtly, collectively, and/or via manipulation.
I was at Dave & Buster’s the other night, and for the most part I had a delightful time. As I walked around, however, I saw numerous games that included all sorts of aggression and violence toward both people and animals. I do not feel any aspiration to fall back on a “blame video games for all violence and issues among children” stance. I do, however, simply wonder why we find violence so entertaining. Why are games designed to be fun and compelling replete with violence that sometimes includes literally killing people in them? What is it we find so compelling about violence? Is it a way to deal with underlying fear in us that for the most part is not even conscious but that may largely direct our behavior and experience? Some part of us knows/senses such fear is there (in some this may seem more conscious than others), and in seeking desperately to not let it come to consciousness, we act out in ways that seem “safe” but still touch that darker part of us that is unconsciously there?
I don’t know. What I do feel is that the above have often been engaged in by adults. Yes, the way(s) some adolescents in question in recent news stories have acted seems horrifying—but where might they be getting this kind of example?
We don’t know what the home lives of the kids who are initiating and/or participating in bullying look or looked like, how their parents interact/interacted with them, how they are and have been treated away from their peers. I feel very clear that I am in no way intending to excuse or underestimate the behavior they have displayed by saying that. What I am rather aspiring to is remembering that there are motivations for everyone’s behavior, even kids’, and very frequently it is unconscious. In children, this may especially be the case if they are treated unconsciously by adults, particularly their parents.
To return to the “breaking the cycle” framework I invoked in a recent post, this does not seem to me helped by seeking simply to punish or counter-ostracize kids who act in a bullying way. I understand feeling the urge to do that. I do. I experience the anguish, fury, painful and indescribable frustration in response to horrendous treatment of human beings by another/others. But it seems to me reactive punishment and aggression simply breed more of the same behavior, coming out somewhere else or in some other way. It is where the motivation for the behavior may have come from in the first place.
This is not simple stuff. It is not an easy answer or certainly an easy process to say, “Okay. I’ll just change all the habits in me and get rid of all my unconscious motivations and love everybody.” First, in my experience, none of that can be “done” by way of the mind that is able to conceive of them. The shift is beyond that kind of conception and certainly beyond “trying.” It seems to me, however, that it begins with openly (and lovingly) observing ourselves, and especially on this subject the kind of example we are setting—larger than just what we do in front of kids. How are we living our lives? How do we view people? How do we treat people? How do we view and treat ourselves?
In that light, all I have is an invitation, which I offer wholly to myself as well:
Take a deep breath. Do it all the time. Focus on the breath. Hold yourself (again I am saying this to me too) in love. Touch yourself lovingly (yeah, yeah—I don’t mean just that way—though I certainly don’t mean not that way either). Seriously. Place your hand on some part of your body with love. Do you feel it? Does it feel different? Unusual? If you feel like it, even give yourself a physical hug.
Return to these things, over and over again. They may help more than we have any idea.
“We got teenagers walking around in a culture of darkness, living together alone…don’t you know that love’s the only house big enough for all the pain in the world?…”
-Martina McBride “Love’s the Only House”
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