Do you remember that kid from high school who radiated positive self-esteem? He seemed to transcend the social cliques freely without judgement and got along well enough with his classmates and his teachers. What was it that made this kid so immune to the judgement of others in his class?
High school is a time of transition. For many of us, it is a time of attempting to define ourselves, to find our place in the pack. As teenagers are often greatly influenced by hormones, the experience of high school is often a fairly primal one. As a male, my experience of high school and even middle school was largely influenced by a social structure already in place, a system that told us who we were and who we should be. It told us what clothes to wear, what music to listen to, and who to hang out with. Any deviation from set guidelines were met with the threat of ostracization. In this new society, the threat of being outcasted or being made a spectacle of peculiarity was horribly terrifying for some of us.
We relied on the pack for alliance in a world that seemed big, confusing, and against us. This was a strong influence in our decisions to enable our peers to influence us so greatly: “If I am not cool, then I am not desirable. If I am not desirable, then I will be alone in this world which seems to be against me.” Without the pack’s protection, I will be alone and subject to victimization at the hands of other cliques.
Fear motivated our unpleasantness toward each other, fear of each other and fear of this new world of which we were slowly becoming a part. Fear inspired me to conform to the best of my ability, to emulate others in my social clique in an effort at maintaining the guise that I was an exact copy of what I was supposed to be. I believed I was this thing I was supposed to be, all the while constantly fearing I was not and would be found out.
This fear made me subject to bullying. According to Lois M. Collins, a battle over social status is inspiration for a lot of bullying (http://national.deseretnews.com/article/1218/social-combat-competition-for-social-status-increases-bullying-risk.html). It was as though my bullies were trying to prove they were stronger, better, worthy of a higher place in the pack. Of course I was never bullied when in the presence of my clique. To them, I was one of them. My bullies knew this. It is not wise for a hyena to enter the lions’ den in pursuit of a mouse. How I envied that kid who moved freely from group to group. The difference in him and me was his understanding that he was not a mouse or a hyena or a lion. He didn’t have to play by rules because it was not the job of anyone but him to define who he was. He knew he was valuable and no outside perspective could make him think otherwise.
When I was bullied, I often took the passive approach. I was not one for fighting and did not want to insight any trouble. One year, one kid who rode my bus to and from school made it his mission to torture me every chance he got. I kept my head down as he continued to pester me throughout most of the year. He even had his mother come to my father’s place of work to discuss my attempt to sell him and his friend weed. No such interaction had actually occurred, but my father was pretty angry about it. Finally, one day late into the year, I snapped. I threw my hands around his neck and choked him.
I felt a subtle vindication in his hesitance to pester me in the future. At the same time, I felt angrier than ever. The anger had worked as a tool to rid me of this problem. Anger felt right. I was right to be angry. I stopped caring as much about what others thought of me. The world was an evil place and I was happy to be angry about it. It was time to start doing right by myself. Fuck everyone else. The world was dark and scary, but I embraced it. I hated those who didn’t understand me and was too callous to let most anyone close enough to understand me.
Then a small growth the size of nickel changed everything. When I didn’t die, I began to realize that I am valuable, that any outside perspective is just as subject to flaw as my own. I began to realize that the world is not dark and scary and that love is more powerful than any fear I might have. When we let love replace fear, we become like that kid who radiated self-esteem. We have no need to fear because we know that this competition is just an illusion, a product of a system created by those just as clueless as we were.
So, sure, physical violence and downright rage ended this bullying, but I suffered a significant personal loss when I gave into the anger. Surely it wasn’t this one act that made me such an angry young adult. But the way I dealt with the abuse internally contributed significantly. The best way to ending this kind of bullying is to wake up. The pack is nothing more than we make it. When the rules and the social structure are wiped away, this kind of bullying looses it’s power. What point is it to challenge the social status of someone who is beyond its effect?