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Ten Things I've Learned From Bullies

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BULLYING EATING DISORDERS
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1. When I was in elementary school, I was pretty scrappy and I had big enough friends that I ended up pretty much on top of the social hierarchy by grade six. I teased certain girls in my class and I was a little jerk. My transition to being nearly friendless and painfully uncool in junior high school was karmic retribution. By the time I reached age 14, I knew what it felt like to bully and be bullied, and never forgot it.

2. Bullying is not just the territory of the biggest and strongest. A bully is someone who can create and abuse power in a relationship. Your boss can be a bully. Someone you are dating. A kid in a playground. It isn't about getting beaten up for your lunch money. The bullying is in the constant threat of violence and the power dynamics at play.

3. Basic management skills are so rare in most workplaces, and it turns a lot of managers into bullies by default. I don't think most people want to be micromanagers, or want to yell at their staff, or be verbally or emotionally abusive. I think that stress and pressure are passed down, and most people do not know how not to cope with their own frustration and stress. We need more basic and affordable management training.

4. If you've been bullied, you behave differently. You develop coping mechanisms. Your self-esteem drops, and you stop taking care of yourself. It takes effort to leave your bed. You don't trust people around you. Maybe you start bullying your spouse, your kids, your friends. This is what makes bullies so insidious; they change the way the bullied live their lives and how they frame the world around them.

5. I was on the bus the other day when a young teenager helped a woman with her bag onto the bus. I thought to myself "What a stand-up kid. I guess you can't judge a book by its cover." Then he started yelling at this poor geeky kid with glasses who I guess had been looking in his direction. The rest of that bus ride, that kid was looking everywhere else he could. Good kids can be bullies.

6. There is a link between bullying and suicide, and this has led to the issue gaining a lot of attention in the media. Suicide is, in many cases, a question of power. You feel that you have no power in your own life, so you do the one thing you still feel that you have control over. Suicide is a desperate and tragic act of reclaiming the power that you feel these bullies took from you.

7. I've been called gay (or a less appropriate synonym) a decent number of times from kids in passing cars. I can't think of a more cowardly thing for a bunch of guys to do than to pile into a car, drive around the city and yell homophobic slurs at people who can't possibly catch up to them in order to explain that it's OK and we are all part of the same beautiful tapestry of human sexuality. And maybe give them pamphlets on accepting yourself and others.

8. Bullying is reinforced socially. If a bully is rewarded by social status or approval, that person might continue to be a bully. When people say "You should just stand up for yourself," it presupposes that it will maybe lead to some catharsis where you duke it out with the bully and everybody learns a lesson. The problem is that bullies often work in groups and have all the power. By the time you stand up for yourself, there are rumours about you floating around, your reputation has been destroyed and nobody takes you seriously. Lots of kids stand up for themselves, all the time. Lots of other kids turn the other cheek, or try to avoid their bullies. Without peer support, it doesn't change anything.

9. Bullying trumps reason. Just read Calvin and Hobbes.

10. I believe anti-bullying programs work. I believe that the next generation is more aware of bullying, and better able to sanction bullies. I believe that while cyber-bullying is dangerous, the Internet can also create a level playing field for those being bullied, and it can be an amazing access to resources. There are a lot of good, encouraging resources for kids that weren't around when I was younger.

Are you in crisis? Need help? Find links and numbers to 24-hour suicide crisis lines in your province here.

Josh blogs about the many things he has learned and continues to learn at tenthingsivelearned.com.

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