Over the past few months I have been corresponding with the person who submitted the story below. They wanted to send this story and their thoughts to me and asked many questions to clarify how they would write it. I wasn’t sure what I was going to get from them, and what I received and am sharing below is a gift, which is the gift of writing with emotion and meaning. While some may not agree with this person’s opinions, the way it was said was not only touching to me, but also educational and thought-provoking. ~Alan Eisenberg
Winning Against Bullying In Spite of Adults
After Phoebe Prince’s suicide and that of Tyler Clementi, I thought I should write. As a child, I faced bullying and won– with little support from adults who could’ve done something– and, as an adult, think bullying should be punished and self-defense supported. Without responsible adult supervision (and I don’t mean more laws or rigid zero-tolerance policies) to stop hostile abuse or back action against it, we teach our children they’re helpless, don’t matter and only hang on until, one day, they can’t.
At age 9, I stood up to an older bully (in an urban environment with violent, drug-using and sexually-active preteens) and drew attacks by his followers, a $5.00-apiece price on my teeth and instant buddies going “What’re we gonna do?!” on my side. “Oh, not my baby” and “boys will be boys” from parent/school channels and no-fighting “all violence is wrong” policies that punished self-defense let me get “accidentally” pushed out into traffic twice (refusing the bully’s public offer to “call it off” if I paid $10.00 tribute, while giving my side guidance to only evade and defend) in the first year… then, using mischief (assault being illegal and self-defeating as not resisting at all) to persistently upset, frustrate and divide, break our opponents’ will to fight over the next four. (“Let ‘em start, make ‘em run” by any defensive means necessary– the other folk’d admit they “fell down the stairs” while perpetrating?– built their individual reluctances to attack. Half my side would also become female, unlike theirs; we didn’t try to make anyone “put out.”) In the last year and a half, violence spiked (I nearly met “accidents” four more times) as our opponents began to “transfer to a private school” (the residential kind paid for by insurance) and their side, wasted by “youthful experimentation,” came apart. We stayed healthy, happy and doing well in school. A neighborhood young mother asked how I got the girls on my side to be so confident and independent: “Encourage them to hit,” I said honestly at age 14– what “Just Say No!” actually took.
With a graduate degree in war and strategy today, I can say (per Carl von Clausewitz that violent conflict is imposition of will upon another by force) that bullying is violent conflict. And, what I did is the strategy North Vietnam used against the United States in order to win the Viet Nam conflict. (In fact, it’s become a popular approach– called “asymmetric warfare” now– for indirectly defeating a stronger adversary in the past thirty years… both T.E. Lawrence, “Our ideal was to keep his railway just working, but only just, with the maximum of loss and discomfort to him,” and Richard Nixon, “North Vietnam cannot defeat or humiliate the United States, only Americans can do that,” had definitely been on to something.) Had adults in a position to act done something, namely punish bullying and support overt self-defense, none of that would’ve been necessary. (Most didn’t seek to understand the conflict beyond an immediate incident and underestimated the “just kids” involved; not hitting anyone was more important for them.) Adults’ theoretical idea of peace, pursued to their satisfaction at the expense of our last child, is wrong and no substitute for the actual peace of not being harmed. (Even my father, a conscientious objector during Viet Nam, encouraged me to fight because the “kumbaya” approach worked so badly.) “Violence solves a lot more than we’d all like to admit,” I said at age 12 (and still do).
As an adult, however, I’m supposed to favor only image, posturing and metaphorical toughness (like “troops” and “the trenches” in a cubicle work environment) because anything else is so undignifiably ignorant it should be painful… or so the attitude seems. (In that context, the “assertive non-violence” of confidently telling a bully to stop would deter in and of itself; however, without an “or else” clearly given or understood to apply, it just means being a stationary target anywhere else.) Most adults feel courage and clean living are naïve, can’t grasp how Lord of the Flies (just add girls, abusable substances and a hit early-’80s soundtrack, in my experience) could be realistic without getting upset and think “teasing” covers things instead… probably why they do nothing and feel bullying is only about victims they can pity. Having also come back from a West African nation where drug-using 12-year-old child soldiers had previously raped and killed civilians (not to mention ate enemy dead as war trophies) for fun, I’d say adults dismissive about juvenile nastiness are deluding themselves. I’m glad I’m not them.
“Young children may look pure and innocent, but put two of them in a room with only a few toys and you will see where the propensity for future wars comes from,” Rabbi Harold S. Kushner (author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People) wrote… and he was right. So was Edmund Burke in that “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
~Name Withheld by Request