21 January 2009

Bully to you

I was humming Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer to myself this morning (somewhat out of season I know but bear with me) when a thought occurred to me that I've had a few times before: the lyrics to that carol really annoy me. Think about it, Rudolph was picked on by the other reindeer because he was different, and it was only when he performed an heroic feat that he was elevated in their eyes and they stopped bullying him. Now don't get me wrong, this is not some diatribe about the writers and purveyors of this message, which also turns up in many teen angst-ridden dramas on screen and in print. They're only writing what's already there. How many of us, on the receiving end of bullying, have fantasised about being revealed as the lead singer of a famous rock band, or an ass-kicking laser gun-wielding secret agent for a secret government agency fighting alien invasions (ok so those two particular fantasies are mine) thereby earning the respect and adulation of their former bullies?

I was bullied throughout my school years, and the truth is if I had had the chutzpah to be a rock singer or secret government agent then I wouldn't have been bullied in the first place, because bullies have an innate ability to read people and they can spot the ones like me whose body language and glances say "I have no self esteem, please just ignore me".

There was one particular girl at high school who bullied me mercilessly, both with words and occasionally more physical methods, followed by a gaggle of her friends all eager to join in the fun. I was incredibly lucky that I had a wonderful best friend who stood up for me, and formed herself and the rest of our group into an honour guard of sorts around me whenever they saw her coming across the school field. A trip to the school counsellors office in tears eventually put a stop to her bullying (what methods he used to convince her to cease I don't know, I just know my relief was immeasurable). A couple of years later, after she had left school, I ran into her one day when I was out with my father - she was the checkout operator on our till at the supermarket. My heart sank when I saw her, but she astounded me by apologising, in front of my father, for the way she had treated me. I don't remember my answer (I do remember the interrogation from my father afterwards, I'd never told him about the situation), but to this day I have the utmost respect for that girl. It took some guts to say that, in the presence of my father and the other customers, and it just goes to show that just as victims don't always have to be victims, so too can bullies change their ways - and it doesn't take an heroic act to bring it about.