Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Sensitivity Training aka Bullying Rant

I'm not perfect. I know, as difficult as it is to believe, it's true! But honestly, I'm okay with that. Sure I strive for perfection, (mostly because I am very OCD), but most times, I fall short. Over the years, I hope I have improved, sometimes through helpful suggestions of others, and sometimes noticing my own issues I needed to address. But I have learned that nobody is in fact perfect.

Sadly, it seems some people still expect perfection. Some people have this vision of how you should behave and how you should look. And if you don't fit into their ideal cookie cutter mold, then it becomes obvious (to them), you're a loser, and they are eager to point out all your flaws.

I would like to think, that in these 'enlightened' days, people are more tolerant of others, or at the very least accept differences in others. But there are apparently still bullies in the world. A bully likes to think he is better than you. A bully is very quick to explain all the reasons you are inferior, and will find every one of your imperfections and focus on them to make you look as small as possible.

I think most of us have experienced bullying in some form or other, but it seems nerds/geeks are the most obvious common target for them. I recently read an article about someone dressing as a Star Wars Stormtrooper at a charity event. Some kids came up behind him and pushed him. Why??? This type of bullying seems stupid, hurtful and a very obvious waste of time.

But what about verbal bullying? It tends to be a bit more vague, however, it is still just as real, and just as disgusting and I will never understand it.

When I was young and maybe extra nerdy, I was always a bit different. I don't mean I had three arms, or two heads or anything like that, but I didn't fit into the cookie cutter mold.

Ironically, in grade school, I was considered one of the 'cool kids' *gasp!*. Partly because there were only about twenty kids in my class, and partly because I was one of the few that weren't Amish. This was a pretty big deal in my very small Indiana town.

Then I moved on to middle school, and suddenly realized my place in life. This isn't something I thought of, but it seemed everyone was eager to point it out to me. You see, I had some very nerdy interests. I liked science fiction. And as any of the cool kids in school will tell you, having an imagination is the worst thing you can do with your life (apparently).

But having an imagination was only the tip of the outcast iceberg. I was a little guy, and I hated sports. And as most kids in a small town will tell you... that means I was obviously gay.

Let me state for the record, I am not gay. I've never been gay, and personally, I can't understand how any man (or woman) could ever be attracted to another man, cause I find men sort of yucky and gross. Especially when women are so hot!!

But let me also say that if you're reading this, and you are gay, I have the utmost respect and empathy for any abuse you dealt with growing up (or even as adults). Cause I was right there with you, hearing every one of the taunts and all the harsh name calling.

There were days I hated the idea of going to school, or riding on the bus. There were days I dreaded eating in the cafeteria and there were just some classes that I really wanted to avoid. Even subjects that I was sort of interested in, suddenly became pointless and a drudgery to study, because it all had to do with that disgusting place of abuse, called Middle School.

Before you start thinking everything was all bad, I was very fortunate to have great parents and really cool friends. But there are just some things you can't talk to your parents about. What will they do? Fight your battles for you? Yea, that should clear up all your problems *cough cough* And even my friends couldn't be there all the time. So what's the solution?

For me, the solution was writing. It was a fantastic outlet for me! Whether I wrote science fiction, or poetry, or even a free writing prose, it was cathartic to get all those feelings out, and for a short time, drift to another world mentally. For the record, I did study self defense books. But the type of bullies I dealt with, didn't beat me up (although there were maybe three fights I can recall). For the most part, they used words. So I needed better words. My writing became my own personal sword and shield. Or more to the point, they became my own personal band-aid.

When I got to high school, my frustration and maybe even confidence started to reach capacity. I remember being in math class, and the jock football player was sitting behind me and flicking my ear (cause that's apparently what dumb jocks do). When the teacher turned to write something on the board, I turned around and hit him in the face (the jock, not the teacher). The entire class gasped loudly. The teacher turned to ask what happened, and nobody said anything. During the remainder of the class, I got all these death threat notes explaining how he was going to kill me (or whatever it is jocks do to threaten little guys like me). I ignored them. As we walked out of the class, everyone followed us. I didn't care. He made more threats that I ignored and nothing ever happened. Was I foolish, or lucky? Maybe apathy saved me.

Eventually, I graduated from high school and things got much better. I moved away from my small town and lived happily ever after.

The end.

But wait... a few years later, something interesting happened that brought all those frustrations crashing around me again. Someone invented the internet!

I was one of the regular writers for a fairly small MSN group. There were maybe a hundred or two hundred members in the group total, but only a handful of us posted anything regularly. I usually did movie or music reviews. I generally tried to be nonsensical, but overall, I hoped I could entertain everyone.

But one day, something dark and disgusting happened. Someone anonymous started to post some very hurtful things about me. They posted personal information about my past, and tried very hard to discredit me. It seems in these 'enlightened' days, the internet allows bullies to abuse you anonymously.

Why??? At first, I tried to ignore it and sort of play along with this cruel joke at my expense. But the attacks got deeper, and not one person came to my side to defend me. Suddenly I was all alone. Suddenly, I was back in middle school again. I carried these painful attacks with me to work, and they kept me awake at night when I wanted to sleep.

I convinced MSN to delete the abusive posts, but the damage was done. I seriously wondered why I bothered writing. Writing was what I loved, and was proud of, but someone chose to shatter my shield and wound me all over again. I was ready to never write anything publicly again.

But, just like leaving high school, things got better. The dust settled and I finally started writing again fairly regularly, and some people seem to appreciate what I have to say.

But looking back, I have to ask... was I too sensitive? Do I have scars that are too deep, that are easy to tear open again?

An artist friend of mine had a very similar experience on his website. Someone targeted him and started sending some very abusive comments about his work. Is there really a point to this? I have always said, one way to improve is through criticism. Remember, I'm not perfect, so I am always open to criticism to help me improve. But there is a big difference between a critique, and an attack. And nobody wants to feel attacked and hurt.

The moral to these stories, are that nobody should have to put up with abuse of any kind. It is a horrible and painful way to live. It creates doubt and distrust in your heart and distracts you from who you should be. But yet, as Americans, we often play a bit roughly with each other, because it is sort of part of our culture.

I have a friend living in Japan who doesn't understand our American way of playfully jabbing at our friends. She doesn't get most of our sarcasm. But I sometimes feel like, the Japanese culture may be right. Where is that line of playful fun, and outright abuse?

The trademark ploy for most bullies is to say, they were only joking. But where is the line? Am I too familiar with verbal abuse as a child, that I can't take a joke as an adult?

Words can be weapons. When I write, I never want to hurt anyone with anything I say, so I choose my words very carefully. If someone asks my opinion on their work, I will always try to be sensitive to their feelings. I never want anyone to come back to me, and say, “Look how cruel you were to me when you said this!”. I don't want to hurt anyone, like I've been hurt, so I try very hard to type gently. But am I, at times, unintentionally abusive without even realizing it, because I live in the United States of Sarcasm?

Maybe the key word here is tolerance, but how do you make anyone tolerate someone who is different? Good parenting is a start. But how do you make someone be a good parent?

Another important key word is empathy. When you take a moment to put your brain inside someone's head for a bit, you might be able to understand how they feel.

Maybe we will never have clear answers to any of these questions. But for myself, years of therapy might be a good start.

And for bullies in schools today... shock collars.


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