Monday, April 16, 2012

Non-Politics: You Should Go See Bully

The documentary film Bully is in a limited screening across the United States, including a handful of theaters in Indianapolis. I encourage anyone who lives near one of these theaters to go see the film. I'll be doing so sometime this week once I get some free time.

I think a lot of people tend to gloss over what goes on in elementary schools and high schools. They say "Kids will be kids" or one of those other phrases. They think that just because bullying often doesn't result in full-on assault, since there is no visible injury, that it is somehow more comparable to horseplay than it is to someone who assaults and beats a family member, co-worker, or classmate.

And I don't think that's true.

I think there's also a misconception that if you send your kid to the school in a wealthy community, or like me, to a religious school, that bullying is somehow less of a problem.

I went to St. Monica from 2nd grade until 8th grade. It was a very small school and still is. Many of the same 30-something people in my 2nd grade class were still there six years later when we graduated. I was never in the popular group, but that never bothered me. I had my friends and we were nerds and we did our own thing.

And while most of my classmates weren't the most amazing people in the world, most of them were okay. But I did have one specific bully. And that's true. I remember one time I fell on the gym floor while we were doing laps around the gym. And while I was getting up, I felt a pair of feet step on my back, pushing me back down to the floor. I lift my head up only to see my bully, jogging away but his head turned to face my direction. And he has this shit-eating grin on his face that would erase any doubt if his actions were intentional or not.

But most of the time, it wasn't aggressively physical. He would say something to me from across a room, stand in my way in the hall, small stuff. And he wasn't smart and we didn't hang out with the same people, so it isn't like our paths crossed. But one time, he went on a school sponsored trip to a Pro-Life dinner that my religion teacher was attending. In the back of my mind, I've always thought he tagged along just to get to me.

So at the dinner, we're all seated at this table and I'm trying to pay attention to the speakers. He's not seated by me, but he's close enough that I can see him making faces and kicking me under the table. I ignore him while the event is actually going on and for the most part, and it isn't unlike any of the several other times he was a jerk.

But after the dinner, the teacher had all the students help clean up the reception by stacking chairs and helping disassemble the tables. And as I was going to grab a chair, the bully got in my way. And I don't quite remember what happened next. Did he touch me? Did he say something? Did he get in my face? Did I try to go around him only for him to move again?

But whatever happened, I just had enough and I ended up pushing him. Hard. I remember him stumbling over a chair.

The religion teacher, being the good mediator she was, reacted promptly, and she identified the problem.

And her solution to that problem was through a group therapy session a few days after the incident.

I, being the quite, introverted kid I was at the time, refused to participate in this sham of a punishment. I tried telling my religion teacher about the history I had with this kid, but she didn't listen or didn't care. I think she had seen one too many episodes of Dr. Phil and was convinced that she could turn our relationship around.

The therapy session, attended by my father and the bully's parents, probably had a lot of religious references and quoting of scripture. I don't remember much, but I do remember that at the end of the therapy session, we were told to shake hands.

The other kid, of course, was eager to do so.

I was very hesitant until I learned that my religion teacher wouldn't let us go home until we both shook hands. A similar scene plays out in the movie as well.

Nothing changed just because I had a chat with my bully.

There were days in middle school that I just didn't want to go to school because of how this bully and some of his buddies treated me.

I don't think my bullying is all that extreme.

But it could've been worse. And my heart goes out to all the people who had tougher times, and are going through tougher times than I did.

I can only hope that, especially among males, that there won't be a stigma about being bullied. That it's okay to go to a teacher, a supervisor, an adult. And I hope those adults, especially in the school system, will have the cajones to aggressively deal with bullying and put a stop to it before something life changing happens.

Finally, I found this via CNN of Kevin Smiley, who is featured in the film. His son, Ty, killed himself after being suspended from school. According to Tulsa World, Ty was suspended for retaliating against his bully. Someone who had a history of bullying Ty, and continued to bully others after Ty's death. It is a powerful clip, but Ty's death was something that should never have happened.

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