Hollie Grimaldi Flores: Being mindful of bullying
Special to The Union
Bullying and cyberbullying are hot topics these days. There are plenty of news stories and films documenting extreme cases.
Various celebrities are coming forward with teary-eyed memories of how they endured being bullied through school; their seemingly perfect lives still mired from the mean-spirited public. The toll bullying takes is high.
I have a confession to make. There was a time when I was a bully. It was in middle school.
The object of my aggression: a girl one grade behind me. Her crime: she liked a boy one of my friends liked.
I spent a week intimidating her with notes passed in the hallway and a warning to stay away from that boy. The week culminated with a demand to meet me outside the red brick building after school, which was code for “get ready to rumble.”
I should point out a couple of factors here. First, this was not my fight.
I was intervening on behalf of a friend over a boy she liked who obviously liked someone else.
Secondly, I did not fight, did not want to fight, regretted the demand to fight. It was my little posse of friends and cohorts who spurred me on.
Honestly, it came down to peer pressure. I was in over my head. Luckily, the girl wisely did not show.
The next day I was called to the vice principal’s office and made to apologize, seemingly ending my career as a bully.
However, it followed me — years later, in a job I liked with a boss I adored. It turns out my boss was a family friend of my long-forgotten victim.
My name came up and the story was told. My boss basically told me he was disappointed to find out I was not the person he thought I was.
Even though years had passed and I had all but forgotten it, clearly she had not.
And in a world of instant karma, I have also been bullied. It was a year later. Again, it involved a boy. This one liked me, but she liked him.
There was some miscommunication by him over his availability at a party. In plain English, he cheated on her.
I became the object of every bad thing that ever happened to that girl. She and two of her friends took every chance encounter in the hall, in the bathroom, in the locker room, at sporting events — you name it, if they saw me they came after me.
There was a lot of name-calling and being shoved into walls. Once after gym class, I found my clothes stuffed into the toilet and was forced to wear my gym suit (remember those fashion statements) home. I never reported the girl, never told my parents. I just endured it. And I have never forgotten.
Most adults I have talked to about this have a bullying story to tell. From being upended into a trash can, called names, lied about, ostracized, taunted, chased or ignored, we have been exposed and somehow survived.
My own children have been victims of bullying, and I suspect, having done a bit of bullying of their own.
As a parent, when I intervened I was told I was only making it worse. The school administrations do what they can but how effective they are is up for debate.
I tried teaching my children to sympathize with their bully. I would say things like, “You know they probably don’t have a nice Mommy cooking them breakfast and packing their lunch. Their home life is probably what makes them so mean. You should feel sorry for them and just keep your distance.”
I don’t know if it helped, but they, too, survived.
I am not trying to minimize the issue but what I believe is there will always be bullies and the best thing we can do for our children is to teach them coping skills and help them navigate in a world that can be less than kind.
We can set a good example by not attacking the coach, cutting off the driver, or degrading others in any form. We can ask them to be kind to the outsider and hope they will speak up when they see someone being treated unfairly.
Because being an adult does not mean your days of being bullied are over. We encounter them in the workplace, at school and sporting events and, of course, online. Spend a few minutes reading the paper, viewing websites or reading blogs and you can see the adult version alive and well. Even seemingly helpful sites can produce mean-spirited attacks and do I even need to mention “Yelp”?
Bullies leave their mark. But I do believe we can lead by example and not engage. Clearly, not everyone had a nice Mommy cooking them breakfast or packing their lunch.
Hollie Grimaldi Flores is the business development manager at The Union. Contact her at email@example.com.
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