October 7th, 2010


The Ripple Effect of Bullying

I was moved to write the following in response to this excellent post which was, of course, a response to the recent gay teen suicides.

My abuse started in second grade when I gained a little weight and was slightly chubby. It was relentless, starting with the verbal (fatty, fatty two by four...) and moving on to constant threats of violence. No, not boys--girls! Yes girls do fight other girls. I used to hide from one bully every lunch recess because she was always going to beat me up. I suspect I was a target not just for being fat but being one of the smarter kids, a threat to their own self esteem.

Some of my grade school tormentors went on to bully me in Jr High and High school as well. Meanwhile at home my mother went into a severe depression and tried to kill herself. My absent father, who lived in the same town but rarely saw me, was no help either. Between the problems at home and the problems at school, I had no shelter anywhere. I became "school phobic" and was absent as much as possible, cooped up in my room.

I never had a date in school and assumed no one would ever want me. My weight? At most in school it was 183 lbs at 5'5" tall. I have better self esteem nowadays at 300 lbs. One year I ate one meal a day all school year and got down to 150 lbs. It made no difference in the level of bullying so my achievement felt like nothing to me. In retrospect, I realize that any boy who might have wanted to date me didn't dare because they would have become targets of bullying too. I also think my geekiness had as much to do with the bullying as my weight but I took the content of their verbal abuse at face value. I believed my fat body made me essentially unlovable.

Finally I dropped out in tenth grade and left home as soon as I could get away. I became involved in the Hare Krishna movement and lived in their temple. I ended up in an abusive marriage and because my self esteem was so low from years of fat bashing, I stayed in it for several years. By the time I left I had two children and because I'd dropped out of school I had to do remedial math before I could take the college level courses and graduate. We lived in poverty while I completed my education, the education I should have gotten years earlier. I got no child support, of course. My oldest child still resents the fact that we grew up in poverty.

Once in awhile I have dreams that I am back in Jr. High with the same people and I am trying to tell everyone I don't belong there; I graduated from college! What a nightmare!

I don't recall teachers doing anything substantial about bullying. That sent a message to the bullies that no one cared and no one would stop them. That just empowered them to continue. That has got to stop. The school tried to do something about my "attendance problem" but never really asked me WHY I didn't want to go to school! Duh!

I've heard of schools that teach all kids effective communication techniques to respond to bullying incidents that they witness and intervene. Often these things take place where adults can't see. Bullying has been dramatically reduced in such schools. Every school should try this! Such non-violent communication techniques will carry through as well in future relationships, whether with future mates or in workplaces.

Bullying has a ripple effect that is often unseen and unmeasured. We really need to get a handle on this problem. How many kids have dropped out because of bullying? My daughter had learning disabilities and kids made her life a living hell. She also dropped out, despite my efforts to keep her in school. I had to teach her how to read myself. She said a lot of the other learning disabled kids dropped out of school and many ended up on drugs. How much of our drug problems are a direct result of kids trying to medicate the pain of being bullied?

ETA: http://www.cnvc.org/about-us/projects/nvc-schools/nonviolent-communication-schools

Interesting Thought Experiment on Wealth Distribution


You are asked to imagine what the ideal distribution of wealth would be.

A study was done comparing real to estimated to people's ideal distribution of wealth. The researchers include graphs of the actual distribution--which shocked even me, as much as I write about poverty and class issues, graphs of what different groups of Americans think it is, and graphs of what they'd like to see as an ideal. It turns out different groups of Americans agree more than they think they do based on political or ideological labels or socioeconomic status. (I was shocked that the bottom two categories were so small as to be invisible on the actual graph. Not so on people's estimated or ideal graphs--people thought, as I did, that the percentage of society's pie was quite a bit larger--certainly visible--than it actually was.)

Fascinating! Cue up Pink Floyd's Money.