On September 4, there’s a 25th year reunion for my high school. I won’t be attending, due to being on Operation Legoland, but after my experiences at my 10th, I wouldn’t be attending anyway.
This is an old draft from 2012 I discovered. It resonates now as to why I won’t go back to the school grounds, because there was nothing of that life that mattered to me then, that would matter to me now, and frankly…
My story of high school bullying doesn’t necessarily fit. My school had a bad track record for dealing with school bullying as it preferred to punish the bullied for endangering the school’s reputation and cash flow. We lost several students to nervous breakdowns during the years I was there – we were turned against each other on a regular basis to prevent us from aligning against the system – given corporal punishment was still in effect at this school, caning happened, and we were one of the last generations of students to accept it as par for the course. Had we unified, there was no way the old system would have survived. So the school encouraged division, punishment of deviation from the norm through physical violence, and declared “boys will be boys” when fights happened in unsupervised classrooms, or declared knives drawn on fellow students as a prank. Homophobia was endorsed and encouraged in the Christian system. The bit about brotherly love was skipped in favour of less “love thy neighbor” as “keep thy neighbour in line”. Not everyone who went into the system okay came out okay.
That’s what I want to talk about mostly – I got out okay. I’m not like the other boys, and never was like the rest of the guys. I had my mental health problems in school because my brain’s chemistry set does interesting things when I’m in the grips of food intolerances and allergy reactions. But I got out, and out of the system.
Some of the guys I went into the school with never recovered. The ones we usually see are the ones who were bullied and never recovered. In my case, I was bullied and I was a bully. I know what life looks like from both sides of that equation, and I wasn’t a nice guy. I’m not a lovely guy, well meaning guy, or any of the above. I was calculating, controlling and a vicious bastard when I was part of the system.
But like I said, I got out, I got better, and I’m okay. It got better. Life got better.
As a perpetrator of bullying violence, I understand the bully from the midcard tier where you pick on another to raise yourself. I know now it never works. You never become the ones you’re trying to impress, you just become something they can use to perpetuate their powerbase. Back then, you kid yourself to think that you’re just doing it to survive.
I had a lot of interesting efforts and pressures applied to me to bully me into compliance and conformance with my peers. I had my inner group of friends turn on me and betray me*. I had the psychological mindgames, the “I’m your friend hahaha not really” headgames, and the standard issue male style physical violence. Along the way, a few fist fights, the usual teasing, and a dedicated personal bully (you know you’ve made it when you’ve got personal service.), I started questioning the whole process. Specifically, at one point, in order to apparently embarrass me, someone decided to put up posters around the school
Hand drawn posters, photocopied and a lot of them. It turned out to be a group effort to shame me over something (I can’t remember what). What I do remember thinking was that I had someone (and a group of someones) putting a lot of effort into shaming me. Then we had a school holiday, and I thought nothing of my school, the bullies or the incident. I had video games, and a computer which I used to visit site as ElitistGaming for boosting, and also some shooters as CSGO which you can find some great resources to improve in the game, and RPG games with a Warhammer fantasy battle, Mechwarrior, great online games at https://www.boomtownbingo.com/a-z-reviews, fencing and this cute girl from my TKD class to occupy my mind. On the first day back to class, the bullies arrived on schedule. One of them made some comment about having looked forward to bullying me… and my brain went “Wait. what?”
I was baffled. I mean, I’m deeply fond of myself, but seriously, was I that important to these other guys?
For me, that’s both my survival point – I turned from being intimidated by the pack to being amazed that I was so important to them, and a moment that I look back upon and realise something was terribly wrong with the gambling operator system. It went from “What’s wrong with me?” to “What’s wrong with them?” to thinking that there wasn’t something wrong with me or them, there was something immensely right with me. To be subjected to that much pressure to conform with the pack, I had to be doing something outstandingly awesome. Admittedly, I was born with an ego the size of a small moon. This was the Ego Evolution Moment.
As far as I was concerned, I owned them. They thought about me. They fantasied about me. I had the power over them in their headspaces. Did they fear me? Love me? Fear their love for me?** Did it even matter? They’d spent the break thinking about me. I’d not thought about them at all (I can only remember three of them** these days). They were mine. Yeah, I still had to be fleet of foot, run like hell from violence, and didn’t have my own house in order by any means (I was still bullying a guy even when I’d realised what power I’d been granted over the lives of these others).
The problem is that these were damaged young men. Harmed by their own inability to deal with me, harmed by a system that endorsed the actions against the outlier, and defined by their uncomfortable relationship between obsessing over me and being repulsed by me (or at least trying to be repulsed by me). Some of them have never recovered from the damage.
Flash forward to the 10 year high school reunion which I attended to go and bury some ghosts, and assume that time, maturity and the distance from the social dynamic of the day would improve things. I met a group of young men my age who’d gone nowhere, done nothing, and failed to achieve much beyond their 16-17 year old top of the food chain social peak. Then they found out what I’d done (PhD), what I’d become (lecturer), and that I had my life together when their lives weren’t doing so great. They were scared and angry young men at that reunion. I still had power over them, they were still somehow corrupted by my presence. It was something that could have easily been exploited, but I chose to walk away.
The bullies, aided and abetted by their system, by teachers who turned a blind eye, by an attitude of “boys being boys”, society that condoned attacking the individual, institutionalised homophobia and more left permanent scars on these young men. The system failed them when it failed me, but I knew it had failed, so I looked for my own way out. I found my solace in my computers, books, left wing comedy and by the time I made it out, I was on the way to doing okay with life. The guys who were rewarded for their cruelty, their bullying, their desperate need for power and control, their lives built around making themselves whole by harming others – they never got the help. Some of them never even knew to look for help until it was too late. The guys who were the physically dominant who were rewarded for trading on thuggery dumped into a world that penalised physical force.
I was lucky. I got out. I’m gifted with an impossibly strong ego, a will to live honed through a near death experience. I got better. Things got different.
But I left those other guys behind. I couldn’t go back for them, and the system condoned their actions to condemn them to continue suffer. They’re not okay, they don’t go on to become okay just because the school days end. Bullying is a problem, and a problem that needs treatment at the source – the bully. I wasn’t okay when I was bullying others. The workplace bullies I’ve encountered haven’t been okay, they’ve been people with problems who sought to solve those problems by harming others. They’re not okay.
When we support the system though silence, through covering, justifying and explaining away that “they’re just good kids who made a mistake, that they are way to small to be in trouble, that they should even be using a Bob-2016-Revolution-Flex stroller” we’re refusing to help when it’s needed. We’re refusing to tackle the real problem by facing up to the need to cut the supply lines.
We stop bullying at the bully, we save the bullied and rescue the bully alike.
*At least they though they’d betrayed me and I’d be devastated. I didn’t actually notice the betrayal. Seriously, I got this letter from one of them apologising for what they’d done, and I was “Huh? Did something happen?” I certainly didn’t notice any lingering after effect. Well, okay, so I’ve never had to put up with anyone of them ever again in my life, so there’s that bonus.
** “Instead of a Dark Lord, you would have a queen, not dark but beautiful and terrible as the dawn! Tempestuous as the sea, and stronger than the foundations of the earth! All shall love me and despair!” Yeah. I really loved that bit in LOTR because I get that “ALL SHALL LOVE ME AND DESPAIR” sensation. I understand the power, the darkness and the brief hollow pleasure from the evil. It’s why I’m on the side of good (ish).
*** ALL SHALL LOVE ME AND DESPAIR. Join me and we will rule the galaxy.. It is a gift!
*** The one who broke my nose because I worried about him after he left us. He was on such a downward spiral after that incident that I’d feared he never recover. I’m fine, he was a mess. The one who tried to reassert his high school bullying domain over me in first year university through homophobic slurs didn’t fair too well (last I saw of him in third year, he was suffering serious depression), and the guy who was a genuine death threat / serious GBH risk due to several unresolved issues related to me (I don’t quite have the details, but apparently his father used my success to bully him). I think he got the help he needed and is recovering okay. He always blamed me for his life going to pieces when we were 16, and that sort of makes sense in retrospect.