Why do people get bullied?

I have been bullied, and so have many other people I know. Bullying is something that has surrounded me for as long as I’ve been exposed to others my age. I suppose I first encountered it in preschool. Believe it or not, I still remember quite a bit from those days. What I find interesting, and rather sad, is how those who were consistently bullying, and those who were consistently being bullied, tended to maintain these statuses as they grew up. If I think about the biggest bullies in high school, most of them I know had been bullies since they were really young. Even worse, a lot of the kids I grew up with that were picked on a lot in high school, had always been picked on in their younger years too. There was no doubt it was because they had always stood out as targets. Maybe they were smaller and easier to harm, or they were shy, or their interests were different from those of the other kids. If you were bullied because you were shy or timid as a kid, chances are all that bullying didn’t help you to develop a confident, bold personality when you got older.

Bullying kept people down. We did not all have an equal chance at attaining social prowess. Those bullies were there from the beginning, and they did all they could to keep the rest of us from growing; from reaching a point where we could challenge their authority. I think it was important for a lot of bullies to keep others down, so that they could elevate themselves in the only way they knew how. Perhaps it was actually the bullies with the biggest confidence issues. Perhaps they needed to feel important or powerful in some way.

But if keeping others down was what the bullies were after, there was something they didn’t realize. Yes, they may have been able to successfully ruin a kid’s social image for the rest of his school career. Yet there were always others that weren’t damaged by all the bullying, but were actually nurtured by it. It took me a while to realize this, but they existed. And I was one of them. I’m not going to pretend that I had a terrible childhood. I didn’t. I had friends who I was able to explore and learn comfortably with all my life. I grew up in an upper-middle class suburban neighborhood, where many kids were raised right, and tolerance was a virtue stressed by our teachers. But everywhere has its share of assholes, and kids are not immune from this label. In fact, in my opinion, there are more kids that are assholes than adults. Luckily, I wasn’t one of them. Unfortunately, small and shy were things that I was. Aside from being a good runner, I wasn’t great at sports, and I preferred to make friends with girls. Being made fun of helped draw my attention to these attributes. But even though this was a cause for embarrassment early on, as I got older, these qualities that I was well too aware of became great advantages. My introversion became introspection. My self-awareness became self-knowledge. My ability to relate to girls helped me become someone who was more balanced and flexible than others when it came to gender-typical ways of thinking. I learned how to be empathetic toward others and understanding of myself.

Although I have had crushes for as long as I can remember, it was in sixth grade that I became aware I was gay. For a long time after, I was in denial about it. I knew it was something that was looked down on, and I was too afraid to tell anyone. But as I went through high school, I learned how advantageous it was to be different in such a fundamental way. It breathed so much depth into my understanding of love and friendship, and I began to look at myself differently. The idea that I would be able to date a person I actually liked was so liberating that I strived everyday to better myself; to become worthy of another person’s commitment. Most of the qualities I had always been picked on for, I now treasured, and exercised to the best of my ability. The low esteem and physical weakness, on the other hand, became areas to work on. I became involved in martial arts, and soon became stronger and more athletic. As I discovered my niches, I became more involved, and more confident in my abilities. I took more of an interest in school, and earned better grades. I would not be where I am today, if I had not been different from other kids, and if I had not been bullied.

However, I recognize the fact that everyone’s story is not so successful. For some kids, bullying isn’t such a cause for growth as it was for me. Bullying can keep someone’s esteem down his/her whole life. I don’t want anyone to read this and think that I’m excusing bullying because it “builds character” for those being bullied. For many, it merely causes harm. But if you want my honest opinion, we will never be able to eliminate bullying altogether. We as humans have natural inclinations, and some people are simply prone to hurting and making fun of others. If we wanted to reduce the instances of bullying, we would have to focus as much on the bullies as we do on the victims. Yet way too much remains unseen and unspoken. What I want you to take from my little anecdote is something more realistic than a solution to bullying. If you are one of those whom bullying has done nothing but harm for, take a moment and look at yourself. Think why it is that you are being bullied; what qualities make you are target for bullies. Then think deeply about those qualities, and I bet you find potential if several, if not all, of them. Maybe you have always been more of a scholar or artist than an athlete. Maybe you think, feel, or act differently than a lot of your popular peers. But how have these qualities benefited you or others? How could they benefit you in the future? I may never have met you, but I promise you, that, by virtue of being different in your interests or abilities, you are uniquely valuable to the world. You may possess qualities that are distinctive and rare.

The ones who make the history books are the ones who stand out against a monochromatic background of beliefs and abilities. Those who have changed music, law, science, have all had originality. And originality didn’t necessarily make them popular in their particular time or place. But it made all the difference in the world. So I cannot stress to you enough how important it is to love yourself, nurture your hopes and dreams, talents and interests. Because one day, you will benefit immensely.

Humanity as a whole suffers ever time a teenager is forced into such a dark place that he/she takes his/her own life. Humanity suffers because potential has been lost; potential that can ripple in every direction, and create change in the lives of so many people. There is strength to diversity, and diversity is what is at risk to bullying.

But do not hate your bully, because that person may also be a victim of someone or something, just as you are. Simply take the ammo from their guns. Listen to those who just want to hurt you for personal gain, and you will lose sight of yourself. Listen to yourself, and you will learn more than you can imagine. Because a bully can never know you like you know yourself. Believe what they say, and you will adopt a perspective that was not made for your self-reflection. This is something I wish every person being bullied would understand. Bullying stems from ignorance of the self and others, and verbal abuse can only harm you if you put faith in ignorant words. I find it so important that the message reaches as many ears as possible. It is our duty to ourselves to reach our personal potential, and bullying does nothing but sand in the way. I want you to be able to see this potential, even through all the obstruction. I want you to know yourself before you consider what others say about you. This is why I write to tell you “I CARE”.

-John