bully, for you

Everyone is a bully. Every word is a judgment. Every unkind remark is an assault. Every sideways glance is an unwanted advance.

Do not leave your house. It isn’t safe. People are mean.

Yes, people are mean. So what? People are mean whether you are eight or eighty. I learned that a long time ago. When I was a kid I was routinely tormented by bullies, or as we called them back in the day, the popular kids. They called me gay, fag, faggot, homo, homo-gay-faggot, et cetera. I suppose on some level their words hurt my feelings, I know their lack of originality offended my authorial sensibilities, but I never feared for my safety or felt intimidated. Twenty-five years later I look back and I couldn’t tell you who in my ninth grade gym class called me what variation of homosexual while playing a heated game of some ball related activity.

I moved on from my bullies. I grew up. They grew up. Now together we live in the real world surrounded by a new generation of would-be bullies – bosses, co-workers, internet trolls. They question our productivity. They fail to value our contributions. They call us names from the safety of their smart phones.

Eight or eighty the game’s the same.

People are mean. You aren’t going to change them. You can’t control their behavior.

Recently a kid at school made fun of Chris’s glasses. This event did not traumatize him, it was just something that happened, but in relating the story to me he said this kid was a bully. I explained that while it was unkind of the kid to talk smack about his specs, the child in question was really just a jerk and not actually a bully and besides did he (Chris) even care what this kid thought? (For the record, he did not.)

The truth is most people are jerks. Especially kids. But in today’s hypersensitive world, where every word and action is a personal attack designed to further perpetuate and feed our need to be a victim, the once harmless Scott Farkus is now deemed a dangerous sociopath.

I don’t blame my son for failing to differentiate between garden variety assholes and bullies, not when our schools suspend a five year old for calling a classmate stupid. And I don’t blame our schools for overreacting, not when there are kids so tormented they are driven to suicide. But I do blame our society for creating a culture where every word is considered a de facto judgment. Every unkind remark is perceived to be an all-out assault. Every sideways glance is treated as a threatening unwanted advance.

Don’t get me wrong. If someone were truly tormenting my child I would hunt down and then crush the little bastard. But I refuse to intervene every time some kid directs an unkind remark in the general direction of my children. Part of growing up is learning how to deal with and ultimately outsmart the jerks of the world. I know far too many people who never learned that skill and now they collapse under the weight of every passing criticism convinced that every person is a ruthless bully out to get them.

People are mean. You aren’t going to change them. You can’t control their behavior.

You can control how you react.

So don’t react. Take control by being in control. The bully wants a reaction. It gives them power over you. Be stronger than them.

Sean Michael O’Donnell is the author of Which One Of you is the Mother? It is available on Amazon here. Why haven’t you bought it yet?! Seriously.