The Seemingly Impossible Fight: A Call To Kindness

Let me start off by saying that personally, this is not an easy post to write, nor will it be an easy post to read. It’s long, and at times may be difficult to take in, especially for my friends and family members that are unaware of what I went through up to this point. But I do not share my story for my own sake, but rather for the sake of others: those who have already been through it, those who are currently in that kind of situation, or those who simply don’t understand what it’s about. You may not agree with everything that I say, but please be respectful.
We have a problem. It is a problem that tends to be written off as kids being kids, or a problem that is not worth trying to solve because we’ll never completely solve it. It started on the playground and has plagued its way into people’s own homes. More or less, it has gravitated into cyberspace. That is why it has been given the now all-too-common term “cyber bullying.”

I was in my second year of middle school when I began to venture online; most of the kids at the time used AIM (AOL’s instant messaging service) and along with it you could make a buddy profile, which was basically just anything you wanted it to be. Some also used Xanga; it normally functioned as a blogging website, but anyone I knew of that had one used it before the days of Myspace and Facebook.

It started around late February or early March; I came home from school one day to find that people had posted messages for me; I can’t recall the exact details, being that it has been a little over five years since it happened. I do remember that whoever wrote it often used the words “bitch” and “whore” in order to describe me.

I was in shock. What exactly did I do to be treated that way, and by whom? I knew there were vicious rumors going about me, but that was it. None of it made any sense to me.

I was extremely naive about the internet back then; I believed that I was in control of what was going on, and that eventually it would stop. But every day, there was always something being posted that was more hurtful than the last. The one thing that hit me like a ton of bricks was when someone wrote, “no one likes you. Go fix your legs!” Despite my eventual healing, I have never forgotten those words. 

    I wanted to make it stop, but I didn’t know how; at least without coming across as a complete bitch. I didn’t have definite proof as to who was doing it, and thought it would be better for me to be the bigger person. Little did I know that I was just being a doormat.

 At some point I began getting called down to the counselor’s office to talk to her about how I was doing with school, both socially and academically. I tried opening up to her about what I was dealing with, but she would always tell me to stop being so negative and then all of my problems would go away. I never took a whole lot out of the time I spent in her office, and usually walked out of there feeling worse than I did before.

My parents knew that I was struggling, but only to a certain extent. I it didn’t occur to me to tell them that I was being cyber-bullied, since I didn’t even realize what that even was. We would have numerous conversations where I ended up in tears, mostly because they said one thing and I would hear something completely different. I finally stopped trying to explain my perspective because life at home was stressful enough, and I figured that all I was doing was burdening my loved ones with crap that they didn’t need.

It got to the point where I started spending more time alone, and sinking slowly into a state of depression. There were days that I would get so upset (normally after the counseling sessions took place) that I would skip class and go into the girls’ bathroom and cry. A lot of the time I wrote poetry in order to express what I was going through, because what I really wanted to say usually never came out right.

I can’t say that I wanted to physically take my own life, but I did wonder if anyone would actually care if I was around or not. It was like a large part of me was dying on the inside; the part of me that genuinely loved myself, and would take years to resurrect.
The biggest aspect of bullying, at least from my perspective, isn’t just about the words that are being said, whether it be face to face or through a computer. There’s no denying that words hurt, but it is more about the psychological damage that is being done as a result of those words. It is about the isolation that a person feels when they’re being told that they’re worthless and undeserving of any kind of love. It is about trying to find the courage to say “I am not OK” but yet fearing what would happen if you do so.

 My moment of relief came one Sunday a couple of weeks after eighth grade started up; I had begun attending a church with my neighbors, after taking part in a youth group trip that summer. I loved learning about the Christian Faith and about the concepts of loving others and compassion. And although my spiritual journey has had its ups and downs since then, it was the beginning of an extremely long healing process for me.

 I had been holding a lot of emotions in at the time, doing my absolute best to deal with the memories on my own. I remember that I walked into the hallway before the service started and somewhat lost my composure. A friend of mine, who I had only known for about a month, spotted me and asked me if I was all right. Since it was rather obvious that I wasn’t, we went off into a small closed off area to talk.

 I didn’t trust anyone at the time, so I’m not sure what moved me to spill out every single detail of what had happened, and my feelings towards it. I’d like to think that I have a keen sense of perception and that I’m good at sizing people up. This friend seemed safe enough, so I told them every single last detail. Then they looked at me and told me that I was loved, both by God and those that also went to the church. And at the end, I remember how this person gave me a hug. The relief, gratitude and joy I felt in that moment are still indescribable.

But this is not just about me. There are millions of people go have dealt with and are still dealing with this kind of cruelty; not only are they being verbally picked up, but some are even physically harassed as well.  Sadly, it is still being viewed as “petty junior high crap” when the truth is that bullying of all kinds happens both in high school and even on college campuses. One can go so far as to say that even adults are subjected to this kind of treatment.

The question to ask is not “who is to blame?” but rather “what can we do about it?” And I say “we” because it is going to take so much more than one person to form a solution. I call this “the seemingly impossible fight” because there are very few that believe that bullying can be completely banished. And while there is some truth to that, it doesn’t mean that people should stick their hands in their pockets and act like it isn’t happening. You never know what kind of change you can bring about unless you make an effort to do so.

The bridges and gaps of social groups have appeared to create this great divide; it seems simple enough to say that if a kid (or group) took the time to get to know and understand another, then perhaps this wouldn’t be as big of a problem. However, one has to be willing to do so, and sometimes the need a little bit of help when it comes to talking openly about themselves or a set of circumstances. Not all lesson plans need to strictly adhere to a textbook.

I applaud our government leaders for recognizing bullying as an issue that needs to be addressed. However, (and feel free to disagree with me on this one) I do not believe in becoming completely reliant on our legal system, both for this particular matter and other troublesome matters as well. Our justice system has failed time and time again, and it will continue to do so if we look to it as the ultimate answer. It seems like it is just a method of punishment to the bully as opposed to disrupting or preventing the act of bullying in itself.

I understand that dozens of teachers, parents and students view all types of bullying as a kind of wildfire that has spread and cannot be put out.  Teachers, it is true that you’re not baby-sitters and should not be expected to be. However, it is your responsibility to make sure that your students are able to learn in a healthy environment. Academic institutions of all levels are becoming less of those and more war zones in the eyes of the children that walk through them. How much longer can one look the other way and pretend that it isn’t happening?
Parents and adults alike are perhaps one of the key factors in all of this; while elder generations may not care for the likes of Facebook, texting, etc. it’s important to what your kids are posting online and what they’re sending back and forth. Yes, there is an issue of privacy and the fact that so many yearn for privacy these days. But in a time where technology advances at an impossibly fast rate, privacy is one of the last things they need. What they need is guidance; knowing how to use the internet safely and in the right way. They also need to be held accountable for their actions and take ownership of what they say.
But more importantly is what an adult (and peers, for that matter) will do when another comes to them and says that they’re being bullied, or they think they’re being bullied. My best piece of advice, especially speaking from experience, would be to just listen and hear what they have to say. It might sound dramatic and over the top, but keep your personal opinions to yourself for the time being and allow them to express their pain. Whether they’re wrong or right in the long run, it is how they feel and they have a right to their personal feelings. That was something that I 

 Aside from the awful names and comments that were being directed at me, the lack of support (or what I felt to be the lack of support) was what I agonized over the most. Anybody who is in that kind of predicament is in a very delicate state of mind, and they want to know that they’re loved unconditionally. They want to feel validated, not rejected. They want to feel want to feel safe, not terrified of the world around them.
Even for those that are being bullied, you too can make an impact. I didn’t realize this until a long time after, but one can stand firm; it doesn’t necessarily have to involve confrontation. If you’re being harassed online, report it to an internet moderator or print it out and take it to someone you trust. If you can’t find anyone who believes what you’re saying, keep telling until they do. As difficult as it may be, try to find a counselor that can help you sort through your feelings and help you deal with them head on. If there’s one thing I regret, it’s that I gave up on any sort of therapy (at least until recently).

 Find a support group to get involved in, whether it is a church group or a student organization at your school. Ultimately, surround yourself with people who lift you up, not bring you down.

 Learn  how to love and accept yourself; Coming from someone who has struggled with it, appreciating who you are as a person is not an easy thing to do, especially when it seems like those around you have nothing good to say. Real love starts from a spiritual standpoint; but I recognize that not all hold those same beliefs, so I am going to say that love starts with self and continues outward. Know that you have a great deal to offer, and that you’re worth getting to know and befriending.

Most importantly, you need to learn how to forgive and let go. That’s not to say that you should completely forget about what happened or try to block it out. For years, I had this notion that if I didn’t talk about it, maybe it would all go away. Yet, I’ve realized that it’s perfectly all right to discuss it, because it is a part of your history. At the same time, you cannot allow it to become your life or define who you are. That was something in particular that I struggled with for several years afterward.
It’s easy to accept that this kind of cruelty is a part of life, and that there’s no way of getting around it. Please excuse my language, but I have to say it: that’s pure bullshit. Yes, not everyone is going to like you. Nobody’s saying that you should have to like everyone either. But the lengths that people, especially adolescents, go to in order to make another’s life a living hell is just mind blowing. When it comes to internet, some will argue the concept of freedom of speech. Yet, a freedom doesn’t seem like a freedom when it is being abused.
Nobody deserves that kind of crap; it shouldn’t matter what their religion is, what their sexual orientation is, or what kind of physical or mental handicaps that they have to cope with.     As my grandmother repeatedly taught me, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” (Technically that is from Bambi, but I heard it from her more often).

It has been six years; many readers are probably wondering why I still care at this point. I’m not in high school anymore, let alone middle school. But as I said previously, there are millions that are currently and still going through this type of ordeal. I just recently heard the story of a fourteen year old boy who committed suicide because he was being picked on at school. And although no one forces another to take their own life, it is still heartbreaking to hear that a person was anguished enough to be pushed to that point.

I have learned so much, both from what I have been through and how I continue to live my life today. It has taught me the importance of reaching out to others and treating them with love and respect, despite the fact that I feel like I’ve fallen short over the years. I probably come across as weak in the eyes of many, but I would rather have a heart of gold then a heart of stone.
There are various causes that I am passionate about; but I have never felt as strong, as angry, or as moved by something other than the cause of decreasing bullying, both on campuses and in cyberspace. There is such a lack of kindness in this world, and it is only being further stomped upon by those trying to justify ignorant behavior. Unfortunately, we can never rid the world of it, but that doesn’t mean we have to live with it either.

It starts with us. And it can end with us. 

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