Thursday, October 28, 2010

Bullies And Their Friends

There has been so much said about the epidemic of bullying lately, from Ellen DeGeneres' heartfelt plea to the "It Gets Better" video campaign, that I was beginning to think every angle had been covered. Then I read a post on comedian/actor Patton Oswalt's website today. You might not know his name, perhaps you recognize his face, but you will surely remember his words because they are powerful and brave and ask you to focus not on the perpetrator or the victim but on the supporters and friends of the bully (profanities abound, just in case you may be offended):



@ 1:33 PM

"I’ve been watching a lot of these “It Gets Better” videos online.   I’m glad they exist.   I’m glad people are making them.   I’d bet, if you could do some sort of poll, you’d find out that saying, “It gets better…” to a younger version of yourself is something that a majority of people would opt to do. The bullied and the bullies.

I was both.   Bullied, and then a bully.

So this is my version of an, “It Gets Better” video. Only I’m not addressing it to the bullied.   And I’m not addressing it to the bullies, either. I’m addressing it to the bully’s little friends.

Dear Guy Who Hangs Out With the Bully and Eggs Him On –
Good move. Really. I know what you’re doing, and I know how it seems like the smart move for you. ‘Cause I did it, too.

When I was in the fifth grade, I started gaining weight, and by the end of that school year, I was a fat kid.   I’d been skinny and oblivious up until then – free time meant running around outside, playing soccer, climbing trees.   Summer meant swimming.

But then I got swept up in reading, and movies, and music and other sedentary activities. My mind felt like a blazing stock car engine most days, and I didn’t miss the running around so much.   If I could curl up with a good book, or a drawing pad, or an old monster movie on TV, all the better.   Pretzels and chips and Cokes had the carbs and sugar to feed my swelling, itching brain – especially when I was re-listening to Devo songs.

By the time middle school started, I had the Victim Kit firmly sewed on.   Cystic acne, headgear and braces, man-tits and a stupid haircut. Sixth and seventh grade were no fucking fun for me. Summer camp was torture, swimming pools were humiliation ponds, sports were a whirling wall of razors I didn’t dare approach.

By the time eighth grade rolled around, I’d adjusted my strategy.   Figure out who the biggest bullies and abusers were, use my nascent comedy skills to make ‘em laugh and hone their taunts, and become part of the asshole entourage.

It was a survival strategy. I had a hand in tormenting an awkward girl named Robin in my eighth grade personal hygiene class. Also a fat(ter), asthmatic kid with a stutter at YMCA camp whose name I can’t remember and countless, faceless others as I glided painlessly in the wake of a trio of bullies whose names I also can’t remember.   I only knew they weren’t bullying me, and were actually glad to see me in the morning, ‘cause here comes a guy who knows seven crueler ways to call someone an asshole or shithead (beyond just “asshole” and “shithead”).

By junior year of high school the braces and headgear came off, I lost weight and my skin miraculously cleared up.   I got a girlfriend who taught me how to cut my hair. And I carried around (and still carry) a poison vein of self-loathing.  

In someone’s memory – in many people’s memories – I’m a snickering, sneering asswipe who hurt and insulted them while peering out from behind the muscular lats of a bigger, more frightening asswipe. There are times when I firmly believe I should have also ended up like a lot of the bullies – stupid, directionless, job-bound and destined for obscurity, anger and oblivion.  

It doesn’t fix a fucking thing, for me, to try my best to take the underdog’s side now. Or to embrace the awkward and outcast.   That dark slice of regret and disgust with a younger self will never be erased..."

To read the rest of Patton Oswalt's post, click here
I hope you take the time to do so; I was really moved. I can't add much more to what he wrote, except to hope that as parents we are able to teach our children to be strong enough to take the challenge he proposes at the end of his piece. And to do that, we need to model tolerance, respect and understanding so that our children grow up to know not only their own true worth but the worth of every soul they encounter in this world. A tall order to be sure, but one worth striving for.

Thanks for reading
The Twin Coach

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