Not surprisingly, there’s been interest in my forthcoming novel, The Amazing Adventures of John Smith Jr. aka Houdini, because of how it treats bullying. Any interest in one’s novel for any reason is appreciated but sometimes people think that you write a book to make a statement, for example that we should’ve left Iraq earlier, (a topic covered in Houdini) when in fact, you’re just telling your story and those topics naturally arise. Whenever a writer tries to write to an idea (to argue against global warming, for instance), the reader loses track of the characters and feels he’s being preached to, and that’s no fun. Preaching is for non-fiction, and since this blog for today is non-fiction, I want to say some things about bullying.
Bullying used to be the province of guys, but the whole mean girl phenomenon has changed that. Bullying is worse today. Why? Because there are more ways to do it. Years ago, someone could belittle you at school or chase you home, but now with the Internet they can hound you 24 hours a day and reach a much larger audience. Also, it’s much harder to say something terrible to someone’s face than to post a few horrible sentences on their Facebook page. For boys, the old approach to bullying was not to back down, even if it meant fighting. The problem with that approach is that you will be pretty exhausted, not to mention, black and blue, if you fight everyone that bullies you, and, trust me, the bullying won’t stop. I have been bullied in just about every job I have worked. No one has punched or physically threatened me, but I could always count on someone working out their insecurities on me.
And that’s what bullying is about: insecurity. If you’re insecure and don’t like yourself, you have two choices. You can take responsibility for your insecurity and work to change whatever is bothering you, or you can try to lessen your own pain by making someone else feel bad. Of course, the logic of this latter strategy doesn’t make sense, even though it’s been going on forever. In a way, we should feel bad for bullies because they dislike themselves more than we dislike them. But it’s hard to feel sorry for someone who is causing us pain.
In my book, the bully, a kid ironically named Angel, has a transformation, partly because a stranger, a man who was his arch enemy, doesn’t give up on him. The kids still don’t trust Angel, but at least they’re willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Against bullying, there is strength in numbers, which is why kids shouldn’t turn the other way when they see someone being bullied. Bullies exist because they are allowed to, because no one wants to get involved. If ten kids confront someone, boy or girl, who is verbally abusing another child, trying to destroy that child’s self worth, that bully will back off. Very rarely do bullies function in isolation. They need, and often, receive, our silence. In school we are afraid to lose friends; at work our jobs.
A great site on bullying is bullying.org