Someone sent me a link to this. Apparently the author of that piece actually died last weekend. It’s very sad: he’s the kind of person who the world needs more of. Someone honest, someone who’s not afraid to take responsibility for his own errors, someone who’s not afraid to speak up, even when what he has to say isn’t going to be well received by mane people. I would have liked to have the opportunity to talk to him – it sounds like we had a lot in common.
He said a lot of things that I’ve tried to express, and failed. It’s so hard to try to explain just what it’s like to still be upset about what people did to you twenty or thirty years ago. And yet, it still has an effect; it still hurts; it still influences you.
One of the places where I disagree strongly with him is the issue of forgiveness. When I talk about the fact that I’m still angry over the abusethat I went through, that I’m still angry at the people who did it, and the people who allowed it, I get lectures about forgiveness: They’re not the samepeople they were back them! Can’t you get over it, and give them a chance? Why hold that anger? It’s bad for you, you need to forgive. blah, blah, blah.
Here’s the thing: the people that abused me? They’re not sorry that they did it it. They never apologized. They never expressed the least bit of remorse or regret. On the rare occasions that I’ve bumped into one of them – either online, or when I’m in back in my old home-town visiting my parents – they remember it as good old fun times: “Hey, dude, remember that time I slammed you against the flagpole? Wasn’t that fun? Man, the look on your face while you rolled on the ground and cried, the way you couldn’t open your right eye the rest of the day because it was so swollen! It was great!”
They don’t deserve to be forgiven. And forgiving them would be a betrayal of myself. These were people who harmed me, profoundly, for their own pleasure. To forgive them without any remorse or regret on their part would be a way of saying that what they did was OK with me. That while I was upset at the time, it doesn’t matter anymore. But it does matter. It matters a lot. It may have been a long time ago… but the fact remains that I can’t have a friend say “Hey, dude, long time no see” without reacting with absolute terror. I’m still a freak who reacts instinctively tonormal, everyday, friendly gestures with fear and anger – because of the abuse that was inflicted on me.
How can I forgive that?
Worse, how can I forgive the people who enabled it? As angry as I am at the people who abused me, like the author of the thing I linked to up above, I’m more angry at the adults.
I was abused at school. It almost entirely a school thing; encounters off the school grounds happened once in a while, but they were extremely rare – I was smart enough to avoid anyplace that my tormentors frequented when we weren’t at school.
And the thing about this stuff going on at school was that it could only happen with the tacit OK of the adults at the school. A kid can’t be beaten upat school every day without teachers, principals, and counselors knowing about it. It’s their job, their responsibility to make the school a safe place where children can learn. They didn’t do their job. It’s not that they couldn’t have stopped stuff like that from happening.
Kids aren’t stupid. In many ways, kids are perfect examples of abstract economics. There’s a certain amount of benefit (pleasure) to be had from certain activities; and those activities have some cost. If the cost of the activity is less than the benefit, then the activity will continue; if thecost exceeds the benefit, then they’ll stop.
How do you stop bullying? You attach a significant cost to it. It’s that simple. If the cost exceeds the benefit, then it stops.
In my school, there was no cost. The principal of the school was a former nun, who believed that children needed to work out their problems on their own, and so she refused to get involved. Whatever happened between children on school grounds, well, it happened. That’s just the way children are.
The flagpole incident mentioned above, that’s real. Both the original event, and the encounter several years later. I did, literally, have my face slammed into a flagpole. I did have an eye swollen closed. And guess what happened to the guy who did it? Not a god-damned bloody thing. Absolutely nothing.
That’s inexcusable, unforgivable. It’s a betrayal of her responsibility, of her obligations to the students under her care, of her obligations as a human being. That principal? There is no power on earth or in heaven that can ever make me forgive her. I hope that there’s a hell, and that she’s rotting in it.
With the recent attention that’s being paid to bullying, I’ve seen a lot of people coming forward against “bullying the bullies”. Their argument is, roughly, that when you punish a bully, you’re doing the same thing to themthat they do to their victims. You’re a person in a position of power relative to them. You’re bigger and stronger, and when you punish the bully, you’re using the fact that you’re bigger and stronger to hurt them.
Fuck that. If punishing a bully for abusing other children is bullying? Fine, bully the bullies! The only way to stop children from abusing other children is to make it clear to them that there is a cost. That the cost outweighs whatever pleasure they get from committing the abuse. And that they will need to pay that cost each and every time they attack or abuse another child, without exception. Do that? Bullying ends. Don’t do that? It will continue.
In my case, the bullying stopped during my senior year in high school. Why? Two things happened. First of all, I grew over ten inches between the beginning of junior and senior years in high school. So I got a lot bigger. And second, I discovered that a knapsack containing a physics book, a chemistry book, and a calculus book made a great weapon: it really hurt to get hit by it, and it required virtually no skill on my part to use it. As soon as abusing me had a cost – that the abuser could take 10 pounds of textbooks in the face for doing it, it stopped.
One of my children just recently started middle school. That’s the same age where my troubles really started, so I was already somewhat on edge watching what would happen.
What watching it brought back frankly surprised me.
Deep down, I’ve always believed that my real problems stem from the things that happened to me in school. And I also believe that there was no reason for any of it to happen. That if someone, anyone in a position of responsibility had bothered to do anything, if anyone had cared the slightest bit, that all of the torture I endured could have been stopped before it ever really started.
And watching my kid, that appears to be true.
The first week of school, one nasty kid started abusing mine. We contacted a guidance counselor at school. His reaction was to immediately say “That kind of behavior not tolerated at our school”, and to start taking action in multiple ways. The offending kid was disciplined; a group of children including (but not limited to) the kids who were passive participants were contacted gently and spoken to; my kid was brought in to talk to the counselor, who’s working with her on how to respond when someone acts like that.
The school’s new principal also gave a short introductory talk at the back-to-school night where we went to meet the teachers. In it, he said something like “As I see it, my job is to ensure that this school is a place where you children can come to learn. That means that when they come here, it’s my job to ensure that they’re safe – both from threats that come from outside the school and threats that come from inside the school.”
It impressive just how little effort it takes. This kind of trouble needs to be taken seriously – but if you really are serious about it, if you actually care, it doesn’t take much effort.
Watching this makes me really, really angry. Not that my kid is getting taken good care of. But because it proves that I was right all along. That if someone had cared, if someone had been willing to spend just a little bit of time doing their job, that I could have been spared so much pain, so many years of disfunction.
Why couldn’t any of the schools that I went to have thought about something like that? Why didn’t anyone ever stand up and say “We can’t let children in our school be beaten and abused”? Why didn’t anyone in authority ever both to try to protect me?
Here it is, 25 years after I graduated from high school – and I still have flashbacks of what was done to me. And it all could have been stopped right where it started, if only anyone had cared. But no one did. And the only one who was actually hurt by their lack of concern was me.