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Sunday, May 20, 2012
Current Affairs ... Psychology ...

It’s been about 10 days now since the nation found out that Mitt Romney was a bully in high school. The Washington Post broke the story that in 1965, as an 18 year old senior in a preppie high school, Romney jumped a kid with long bleached hair, pinned him to the ground, and started cutting his locks. The victim was also gay, but I haven’t read anywhere that this entered into Romney’s intentions. Bullies go after anyone who seems different and vulnerable, regardless of sexual preference. Even age wasn’t a barrier for a bully like Mitt; he had also tricked an elderly teacher with poor eyesight into walking into a closed door. Real nice, Mitt.

This made me think about my own bullying experiences in school. I was on the receiving end of a fair amount of bullying from about 4th grade through junior year in high school. Most of it was verbal abuse, being “mocked out” as they called it back then. But there was also some physical abuse, luckily nothing that left any major scars. On my body, anyway. As to my psyche, I still ask myself, did those stupid kids (and the teachers who mostly looked the other way) affect the person that I grew up to be? And if so, how?

There have been various studies on this, and some of them have found that bullying causes increased rates of personality disorders in victims, especially anxiety. Hmmmm, yes, I do have my problems in life with relationship anxiety, especially in dealing with unknown people. I don’t make friends as easily as other people do (such as my brother, who didn’t quite go through what I had to put up with in school, as he was more athletic than I was).

But I can’t help wonder if the main effect that all the bullying had on me was to make me rather uncomfortable being around children. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate kids. And I take VERY seriously what Jesus said at Mark 9:42, i.e. “whosoever shall offend one of these little ones who believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.” Whether they believe in Jesus or not, I would never intentionally hurt a child. But as to wanting one around me all the time . . . well, to be honest, I really didn’t like kids that much even when I was a kid! I tried to talk with adults as much as possible. They seemed more rational and predictable. They didn’t bully me!

My hesitancy about wanting to start a family was definitely a factor in the failure of my marriage many years ago. (I tried to be open minded about it at first; but as my wife and I drifted apart over time, I couldn’t see how having a child would turn that around and convert us into a happy couple again.) I have lost at least one other budding relationship with a woman after I made it clear that I didn’t want to raise a family. And I’d be very hesitant about getting involved with someone taking care of kids under 19. All because of people like Mitt Romney?

Well no, not exactly. But I do think that bullying changes a person from what they would have been given a more accepting childhood environment. I’m glad that “bullying awareness” has finally taken root in our society, and there are even laws against it now. I don’t hold any huge grudges against the bullies from my past. But then again, I don’t want to spend any time with them either (thus my hesitancy to attend any of my class reunions).

I suppose that the bullies of the world are the more naturally aggressive types, and as kids they don’t have outlets such as managing hedge funds that ruthlessly re-structure existing businesses and fire half the workforce to make a killing on Wall Street (like, uh, what Bain Capital did?). So they need other outlets for their inborn duty to dominate others, especially others that seem weak and potentially burdensome to society. Back when I was young, the teachers mostly accepted bullying as something of a form of performance art. Hey, this was how future quarterbacks and class presidents and millionaires were developed!

But perhaps bullying also helped to develop future social justice advocates and writers and thinkers and spiritual contemplatives. My unpleasant school experiences likely strengthened my own “quiet nature”, my natural introversion . . . it probably made me dig deeper into my self, as to find inner strength. It helped me to take “the road less taken”, to find my own identity. Perhaps I am more anxious and challenged in my relationships with others than most people are, but I am also more at peace with myself.

I still think that childhood bullying is a bad thing that parents and teachers should try to stop (but stopping it is so much harder now with “cyber-bullying”, i.e. with the insults and threats that kids can instantly convey through the miracle of text messaging and Facebook). But looking back on my own experiences as a victim of bullying, I can see that “whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger”. Bullying certainly did change me, and those changes made my life harder in some ways. But they may also have allowed me to live a deeper, more meaningful life.

Nonetheless . . . when I’m in the voting booth on Nov. 6 and have the choice of voting against a nationally famous bully . . . Revenge is not sweet, and Obama has his problems too; but bullies should know that what they did (and perhaps still do) can never be entirely forgotten by those who suffered under their kind.

PS, and yes, I did dabble once or twice as a kid in trying to be a bully myself with someone who seemed even weaker than me. Mea culpa, I hope that guy can cut me a break on the day of judgement! Just as I wouldn’t want any lasting punishment inflicted against those who once tormented me; nothing worse than a paintball or two hitting the buttocks. Or a buzz cut administered by Mr. Romney himself!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:34 pm      
 
 


  1. Jim, First of all, I’m sorry you were bullied when you were in school—¬and for so long a time in school. It is beyond my ability to even think that the teachers looked the other way when they saw some students bullying other students. As a teacher of 36 years (in high school and community college), I would never have permitted such a thing in my presence; so I apologize for all those teachers who did permit that.

    Second: You set me to thinking. Was I bullied myself when I was a student? I am not sure of the answer; because if I was, I completely ignored it. I think I may have been bullied if your reasoning is right—¬that is, based on one’s inability to remember and/or care to attend or have anything to do with reunions being the result of being bullied. Some years ago there was an 50 year reunion of my 8th grade class; many of the individuals in that class were all excited to see each other again. This excitement was completely lost on me, for starters. Then my cousin and I, who were in classes together, were plagued (or so it seemed) with calls to attend the reunion, which to us was a non-issue. My cousin said, “All they want to do is show off their accomplishments over the years. I have no interest in such showing off.” And she was right, I realized; so she sealed my decision. Finally, I had to tell one person that I was really sorry, but I didn’t remember her, couldn’t picture her, wouldn’t know her if I saw her. Well, perhaps I tried to make that a little less cruel than that statement is; but basically, that’s what I meant in my refusal to attend.

    I can think of more than one unpleasant situation in my many years in school. Mostly, I ignored them. I always had my head in a book. Perhaps that’s what the bullies (if that is what they were) did for me. If so, I can only say to them a hearty, “Thank you”.

    Then too there is something that I just do not understand about today’s young people. (Boy, how old can I be, making such a statement! My answer is, “old”.) So I ask: What has happened to the ability of human beings to empathize with others? Is the inability to empathize with others a result of the information/technological age? Have people become so used to dealing with computers, even computers that attempt to be “human” in some way, that the ability to be civil to other human beings has been lost? (Why be “nice” to a computer?) Have we evolved in such a direction? Or are we on the way to such evolution? I hope not.

    Is our inability to relate to another human being the fact that one can remain “anonymous” and say the worst things to another human being without any consequences of any sort?

    Is it a combination of both?

    No matter how one looks at it, it’s sad. If all this bullying has been brought on by the information/technological age, then something needs correcting if the information/technological age is to advance.

    As to Romney himself: I agree with you. It seems Romney has already shown the type of individual he is really. He wants the power over people that having a great deal of money brings. Not a good quality in a president.

    I was once told by a colleague (and learned an important lesson from this individual). He told me that some people considered my tendency to try to “be nice” (I don’t quite know how else to put it easily and quickly) was seen as a weakness. This taught me something important. One can let people assume one is “weak” (if by being “weak” that person means trying to include others, be considerate of others, that type of thing). BUT one must always set boundaries beyond which one will not go or allow others to go. If the boundaries are crossed, inevitable consequences will result. I’m not talking about violent consequences, but there are many types of steps one can take to remedy situations when needful. Those steps MUST be taken, and enforced, when boundaries are crossed. People soon learn that one might “mess” with another to a certain point, but whatever one does, don’t cross the line or the consequences WILL set in. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — May 22, 2012 @ 1:47 pm

  2. I read the information on Mitt Romney with a deep shudder. I happened to meet one particular person online, who came to mind as soon as I read the article about Romney. This woman is the founder of what seems to be a most decent network set up for women with Asperger’s Syndrome. She took a great liking for me at first. But I later found her to be yet another female bully – and a far right, religious fanatic Republican – who began to cyber bully every one of my friends on Facebook. (Yes I have a Facebook profile). I deleted her and blocked her of course, but she has left a nasty taste in my mouth for everything she claimed to stand for.

    I have been thinking about the issue of bullying, and I must say that I was wrong at first to say I had never been bullied, in fact I too have had my share of being victimized. But female bullies are usually far more subtle, and so one never thinks of it as bullying per se, until deeper thought is put into the subject and examined from different perspectives. Nevertheless, I was lucky, I can only remember being bullied by one peer from school. Although in today’s changing world, girls have become more overtly violent in their bullying, during the time I was growing up in the 70s and 80s, female bullies tended to be more subtle – they would take a lot of effort in ‘nurturing’ the victim, and they are very protective towards their victims, claiming sole rights to the bullying, i.e. nobody else is allowed to bully their victim. That was the case with me and my bully. She made herself my ‘best friend’ and would get rid of any other friendships I was about to form. I managed to form good friendships during the years I was away at university, but as soon as returned home, this person came sweeping back into my life. I finally got rid of her only in 1997, I was well into my thirties by then and it was a very difficult event.

    I often wonder… What is the psychology behind bullying? What is it that makes a person – male or female – want to bully someone else? Yes, I read all the information and I can rattle off all the facts, but I am unable to get all the way to the bottom and empathise at all with people who bully others. Does that mean that I lack empathy? It is ironic, really. But that is another subject altogether and I digress. Back to your post, what you said made me rethink about the issue of bullying… and I shudder all the more… to see that over and over again, school bullies grow up to take important roles in society, many in positions of great power and authority. Do people really change all that much? I have little faith in the idea that this kind of drastic change in psyche can happen so easily, at least definitely not without some extremely cathartic experience.

    And then, I think… oh dear… (and other thoughts that I shouldn’t write here… or anywhere else for that matter…)

    Thanks for making me think once again, as your posts usually do. I get off tangent somewhat, but that’s the way my cognition works. *grin*

    Comment by spunkykitty — June 4, 2012 @ 7:01 am

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