My sisterfriend Vanci McPantsy wrote a post the other day titled, "Bullies Are Talking Turds" that got me thinking (as all her posts generally do). In the post, she discussed how both she and her youngest daughter are handling the issue of bullying. If you've never read the works of Miss McPantsy, I highly recommend you check it out because she exudes a sense of peace, generosity, and calm even while she talks about some really, really tough subjects (like bullies, and narcissists, and the abuse that she and her loved ones endured at the hands of her FOO). McPantsy is a gentle soul and she moves mountains with her words.
So, her post sparked a great conversation with DH last night, in which we discussed our high school experiences and how our vision may have changed in the years since we graduated. We discussed the context of the choices we'd made in our teens and what our interpersonal skills looked like at the time. Last night, after re-reading Vanci's post, I turned to DH and asked, "DH, did you enjoy high school?" Who would have thought that question might spark a two-hour long conversation? (Well, besides me, that is. I sometimes think I'm not capable of holding a conversation that's LESS than a half hour in length). Our debate got lively pretty quick because DH couldn't seem to answer me. I chuckled as he stood there pondering the question, mostly because it's been over ten years since he graduated high school and I had figured that would have been plenty of time to lump the memory of that particular experience into a "mostly good" or "mostly bad" category.
So I tried asking him another way, "If you had to go back in time and re-live your high school experience over again, for an indefinite length of time, with the knowledge you have now, would you enjoy it? Would you make different choices?" For a while, we laid out the rules of this hypothetical world: He'd be forced back in time, for an unknown length of time, with the body of his, say, fifteen-year-old self, but with the knowledge and experiences of his present. He'd also be living with his NM again and would not have the means (mostly financial) to extract himself from that living situation. (Scary, I know). Bearing those thoughts in mind, DH imagined such a scenario and tried to work through how differently he would see the world. He said he would still date his high school girlfriend, mostly because she was one of the few who had not seemed to fall under his NM's thumb at the time, which was an intriguing concept. He would still play sports, but he would avoid Pig and Double Agent in those endeavors and would no longer be friends with them. He was not sure whether he would yet have the skills to be able to avoid developing relationships with people who meant him harm, but he knew that he would, at the very least be able to avoid people his present-self has already labeled "dangerous" or "harmful." We tried to imagine what it would look like for him to have to live with his NM again, and that was a very difficult task; mostly because we both know that it would be impossible for him to survive using the same tactics he'd used originally, but that she would never "allow" him to achieve independence in any way. That, my friends, is a topic for another day.
For the time being, DH and I stuck to the specific topic of high school and the various experiences directly linked to it. Now as for me, I've had a clear opinion about my teenage years since my years living as one; and my opinions have not really changed that much over time. In her post, Vanci talked about bullies, specifically the ones we (all) encounter in high school, and how subtle they can be in their attacks:
How does one protect a child from the asshole sitting next to her in
Math who makes snide comments to the rest of the teens in the class
about her breast size? He didn't touch her, after all, he didn't call
her a racial epithet and he wasn't even directly speaking to her .
What's punishable there?...How does one protect a child from the little twit who makes it a point
to invite an entire established circle of friends to a party but
excludes her? And then talks about said shindig at length and within
intentional earshot? It's not as if a police report can be filed for
Willful Exclusion from a Private Social Function with Aggravated
What Vanci described so well has probably happened to everyone at some time or another, and will surely happen to our children too. No one is immune to it because there is always someone out there, utterly lacking in self-esteem, who gets off on cutting other people down, with no greater purpose in life than to cause pain. Who are bullies? Bullies are bored, boring, aggressors who are driven by their own unrelenting desire to separate, subjugate, and conquer both those they consider "weak" and those they consider "better-than." They exaggerate their nothingness to prove a point. They want to "look" bigger than they are, stronger than they are, smarter than they are. And personally, I think the hardest kind to catch are the ones just like Vanci described: the ones who stand behind the girl they are most threatened by and pretend to "snip-snip" her long hair; the ones who pass notes around the class about her and leave them in a place she'll be sure to find; the ones who whisper whisper behind their books every once in a while, but only when the teacher is not looking. It's a kind of subtle bullying - it's not right out in the open and it's not covert, so what is anyone in a position of authority going to do about it?
When I think about high school, I remember a brief time in which I was bullied; in which I felt that I didn't have enough friends (because social standards said "more is better than less"); in which "different" was a very, very bad word and it was a struggle to find a place to "fit in." I remember both yearning to fit in, but also being decidely happy that I didn't - because mostly, I didn't like those people I was supposed to be fitting in with. They were ignorant, or rude, or cruel, or stupid, or pathetic, or creepy, or vapid, or immature. I didn't want to be like them, I wanted to be like me. I just wanted to be happy with who "me" was. That was my biggest struggle.
So DH and I talked about that. I told him that, though I would have thought he was quite the hunk (ohmygod, that guy over there is so cute!) I would have been disgusted in his choice of friends and his immaturity (but look who he's hanging out with). I would have had no time for his social-fluidity - I would have seen his group of friends as a very real reflection of who he was and walked in the opposite direction. Because I didn't like his friends, not a one. And who he was when he was with them was ugly. When I look back on my time in high school, that was largely what I remember: the cliques and the gossip and the annoying judgments passed by our teachers who insinuated we hadn't yet made it to the "real world" - an idea I had always rejected and took great offense to because I didn't like the implication that our world, though quite different from there own and perhaps not bearing as many responsibilities, was any less real. I had always been the kind of student, the kind of girl, the kind of person to stand up and say, "Excuse me, but this isn't right." I said "no" to authority figures when I thought it was necessary, and I was often the only one. My friends counted on me, when the rules seemed unfair, to speak up for them. And I did. But it wasn't easy.
My experience with high school was quite different than DH's: I largely did not enjoy it because I had already realized that my world in high school wouldn't be all that much different than my world outside of it. I'd go to college with the same people, I'd get a job with the same people, I'd live on a street with the same people, my kid's would go to school with the same people. The bullies and the creepy clowns and the assholes. They're out there, they are always out there. Those people sucked then and they suck now and they'll suck when they're attempting to bully our children too. But like Vanci, I'm trying to teach my kids how to handle them; how to look at them and say, "That is nothing more than a talking turd and it can't hurt me." And those teachings have already started: Hey kids, see that woman? That's DH's NM, and she's a talking turd. Let's just step over her and keep right on going."