Thursday, January 28, 2010


No, this is not a blog entry extolling the life and times of Teddy Roosevelt.

I just felt like chiming in with my two cents regarding the sad story last week out of South Hadley, Massachusetts, where high school student Phoebe Prince committed suicide, allegedly as a result of bullying from her schoolmates.

Okay, sure...Phoebe may have, could have had, probably did have, ...emotional issues unrelated to bullying that contributed to her state of mind as she contemplated being no more. That's not the point.

The point is, bullies, and you know who you are, need to be identified and stopped. I wanted to say bullies need to stop but...I just don't think bullies are smart enough to understand that they are who they are and therefore they are not smart enough to know to stop. In fact, a bully, by nature, outrageous as it may seem, might even increase his or her bullying energies in the wake of something like Phoebe's death, to prove to others (really, to prove to themselves) that what they do is harmless, that what they do is not responsible for the failure to continue to live of the people they target, that what they do is...really nothing. If it's anything, it's entertainment.

Entertainment never moved anybody to suicide.

And what is a bully, really, in his or her own eyes, but an entertainer?

I'm not sure about this, but does a bully bully in a vacuum? Does a bully bully for his or her own gratification? Or must there be a middle-man, or -men, or-women? Must there be an audience? There must be, right? The bully must have a way to take a curtain call for the relentless humiliation he or she imposes on the target. There has to be people laughing; there has to be people patting the bully's back, reporting the bully's achievement to the world, usually the middle- or high school world at large. Otherwise, what's the point? Where else is the bully going to be embraced as a success? In the classroom? No. On the athletic field? Maybe, but not likely. In the debating society? Please.

The word is a problem. Bully. It's become a buzzword. A lightning rod. In a way, it's losing its potency. Bullying. Bullyism. It's a thing that happens. Not a big thing. A thing that happens in schools. Just the kids being kids, most of the time. Plus, it doesn't SOUND like a word that describes a crime. Bullyism. It sounds like what Bluto did to Popeye. And Popeye always, always ended up beating the bejesus out of Bluto.

I found myself in trouble a year or so ago because of the word. I had written an article for a Catholic magazine, the St. Anthony Messenger, detailing my high school friendship with John Ogonowski, Captain of the first plane to fly into the WTC on September 11, 2001. The point of the article was that I was a shy, quiet kid as a freshman in high school, and, as a shy and quiet kid, I was the target of a few geniuses who took it upon themselves to entertain their entourages by making the first few months of my high school career a living hell. Not that big a deal, in the grand scheme of things. I would have survived on my own. But John, a great kid who became a great man, took me under his wing, and the idiots went on to bother someone else. The word "bully" appeared in the article, though bullyism was not the article's focus. When the Lowell Sun interviewed me about the article, bullyism again was mentioned, but, again, my friendship with John is what gave birth to the interview.

Still, for a month or so after the newspaper article appeared, I heard from friends that a few of my high school classmates were upset about my implication that there was bullying when I was there. One brave individual cornered me at a neighborhood party and identified me to his friends as the guy who "bloviated" in the Sun about bullying at my (and his) high school. None of these people, to my knowledge, ever read the original St. Anthony's article.

So I'm wondering...just wondering...if the guys who were upset about the article, might just have been...

Never mind.

My point is, the callous, careless, relentless psychological abuse of the quieter, the smaller, the less popular of kids in schools is a real thing. And the perpetrators of the abuse are just not intelligent enough to realize the harm they are doing.

Sure, it's been going on forever. Sure, it's just kids being kids.

But it's really all about arrogance. Arrogance born of stupidity and insecurity. And arrogance very often sticks to a person's character into adulthood. I hate arrogance.

I don't know what schools should do to the offenders, if and when they might be discovered. Suspend 'em? Expel 'em? I pretty much don't think that will do anything but provide them with impetus to become even worse human beings than they already are.

I say confront 'em, tell them what they are doing, show them how it hurts, and why it hurts, and then watch them to see if they change. If they don't, then confront 'em again. Give them the opportunity to show they have a brain. It's a longshot, but it's worth a try.

What they need to learn is that they are in no way entertaining.

Lower the curtain.

1 comment:

  1. This is perfect, Jack! You had so many good points. First, it is not something that should be ignored. Second, just because some people don't see the bullying doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Third, many bullies do see that they are bullying. Sadly, when the bullying is brought to their attention, they STILL don't think they are doing it. Fourth, and what brought the big A-HA moment for me, is that bullies need an audience. This is precisely it!!! I had never thought of it before, but it is so true. You seem to have hit the nail on the head. This is now the way I am going to approach this in my classroom. Sadly, the bullies are often the ones with the most friends and these friends must take some of the responsibility for condoning or silently condoning the behavior. WOW! Thank you!