Though I saw it all around
Never thought I could be affected
Thought that we'd be the last to go
It is so strange the way things turn

Sunday, October 17, 2010

I'd pretend that I was a billboard

I keep rewriting this, and it just doesn't get better or more coherent. So it's time to stop and put it out there.

They say, "Living well is the best revenge." But you never see that in the operas. Childhood for some is filled with fuzzy memories of laugher in the dappled sunlight of endless summers. College is an amazing time that most people who went through it would do almost anything to be there again. In both cases, this is a product of only remembering the good.

That doesn't mean you don't remember the bad, it's just that you push it off to the side. Childhood? Childhood for me saw a distinct decline from solidly middle-class to working poor. And my class mates, those who weren't my friends, noticed this and took advantage of it to make sure it wasn't them, so pushed me further down the social food chain. And when we moved to Ohio to live with my grandparents, I was thrown into a whole different societal structure.

And college, well, let's just say if I wasn't a criminal as I am, I wouldn't have made it through. To be blunt, times were tough enough that I stole toilet paper. But in college I didn't have to deal with bullies because I could tell them to get bent.

But let's go back to grade school. What I said before doesn't mean I didn't have friends. I certainly did. Good friends as well. We weren't the in crowd though. And while we ran like rabid dogs through the hot summer months and we tight, we also were picked on. When you have friends who are called, "The spaz" that tends to happen. Also, in the 70s, divorce was still a new concept in small town Southern New Jersey (so much so we were interviewed by a local newspaper on "What it was like to grow up in a broken household"). So add that to the mix.

Bullying is all about the social status and conformity. If you don't believe me, go read Michelle Sagara West's posts about it (she's had a great series talking about her son and his experience in school). As I mentioned above, for the first one in my early life I was on the way down. As for conformity, well, I've never been one to conform in both ways I've explained here and other ways I haven't. So I was the one who was picked on.

For those of you who do know me in person, you may find that either easy or difficult to believe, but it's the truth. For those of you who find it easy, well, it's hard to hide all of the past. For those of you who have a hard time believing it, it's not surprising. After I got away from the Air Force in college, I revamped my personality. Also, I never did conform to being the one picked upon.

I fought back.

See, I have an older brother who engaged in much of the worst part of sibling rivalry. My brother is four years older than myself, so I grew up learning how to fight someone who was bigger and older. While there were many episodes of bullying before, the first one I remember clearly was in the fourth grade. We were playing basketball (I've always was tall for my age) with a mixed group from 4th to 8th grade (Gibbsboro grade school was K-8, many parts of the country don't do that). One of the 8th graders, the top line bully, got upset that I 1) scored points and 2) stole the ball from him so he started to push me whenever we were close. And then, he pushed me down on the court.

Have I mentioned I have a temper? Those who know me now may find that hard to believe. One of the things a lot of people use to describe me is "patient." It's a hard won patience. It's a part of how I changed myself. It's also how I know I'm depressed, I get those instant anger flashes.

So, I stood back up and punched him in the face, knocking him to the ground. It took three 8th graders to pull me off of him.

But here's the difference. Once it was over, I didn't assume his place in the social structure. I went back to being me and being with my friends. Bullies don't understand this. To them it's all about social status and conformity, remember. That you wouldn't want their position is a totally alien concept to them.

That incident put the kibosh on much of the bullying for the next year and a half I was in Gibbsboro. Then we moved to Canton, Ohio, and into a whole different set of rules. When we moved, my Mom told me I could be whatever I wanted to be, that this was an opportunity to change myself. So I wanted to be less violent, part of "Not Being My Dad."

However, coming into a new school district and not wanting to fight for your place is not how to do things. Also, I grew up with a different set of rules. In Ohio, the kid who struts isn't the person to mess with. In NJ, they're the showoff, it's the person who walks confidently that you don't want to mess with. Also, in Ohio they wrestle (and have that body image of toughness), in NJ we fist fight (which has a different body style). So, to make a longer post shorter, let us just say that I typically had to have fights about every two years, selecting the leaders of the group (typically they volunteered anyway, seeing their minions pick on me, so they do it themselves) and beating their asses to a pulp. It took that long for the bullies to forget and to press me to my snapping point. I remember one kid I strangled until he nearly passed out because his friend had taken my glasses and he wasn't fast enough to get away.

So, I'm not your typical person to talk about bullying.

But I wanted to say, it's not about you. It's about the bully. When older people tell you that the bully is jealous or frightened of you, it's bull.

What it is about is that you threaten the bully's world view. Because you're different, or don't buy into their precepts of "the way things are," they feel threatened that maybe what they think and believe isn't so. To some people, this is an easy change. To the majority of people, it invokes a sense of "WRONG." So they need to make sure that you either "aren't worthy" or try to get you to conform. In either way, they're trying to fit you into their world view.

It doesn't change as you get older (except for one crucial difference discussed a few paragraphs down). Much of the current political discourse going on I attribute to this attitude. The social conservatives felt they were on the path to having their view being the dominate view and they felt comfortable and secure in the "Permanent Majority." However, the elections of 2006, when Democrats took back the house and came close in the Senate, sent a shock through their system. But then those who enforced the world view in the larger public calmed them down by saying it was just an anomoly. The big change was the election of 2010 2008, when Democrats increased their lead in the House, took the Senate, and won the Presidency. At that point they realized something was wrong with their world view.

So, they could either accept that their ideals were really in the minority, or they could get pissed.

Typically most humans choose the later.

As it comes clear that the Tea Party is getting a lot of its strength from the Social Conservatives, their cry of "We want our country back" becomes clearer. They thought that it was their country. That they were right. They created a bubble where they could exist and the world (or at least the political side of this country) seem to be going in their direction. And the 2010 election was the rest of the country giving them the big middle finger, at least in their minds. In this context that quote (We want our country back) makes sense. They want their world view back. They don't want a pluralistic society.

I promised to talk about the crucial difference between being in school and being out of school (or even just getting to college). You aren't forced to socialize with the same crowd. You'll have some interactions with the same small minded people who can't handle change or challenge to Their Way(tm), but you can mitigate that exposure. You'll find you can create a "family of choice."

It gets better. It's hard to see that now, but it will. It sucks and it hurts and it looks like it will never end and nothing will ever get better, but it does. School is not life.

My advice right now is to do what you need to survive and make plans. Make plans to escape to someplace else. If you're in a small town, look at going to some city. If you're in a city, they aren't all the same, find one that will fit you better. It takes a lot of work, but it's worth it. It does get better.

edited to correct for dates.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

The big change was the election of 2010, when Democrats increased their lead in the House, took the Senate, and won the Presidency.

Making a prediction about next month or do you mean 2008?

Anonymous Cassie

Steve Buchheit said...

Whoops, correcting that now. Thanks Cassie.

Steve Buchheit said...

Cassie, I also find it interesting how the conservatives are now lowering the bar for their expectations on the upcoming election. Four months ago it was "We'll take the House and the Senate." Now it's, "Most likely take the House and the Senate is in play." That might be a nod to "not thinking they deserve to win the election" (a conversation I had on a friends blog), but I think it's also the shift in polling.

If anything, the election should be interesting. I just want it to be over because I'm tired of all the damn ads. I expect robo calling to start up either at the end of this week or starting next week.

Anonymous said...

You expect robo-calling? I've been getting it for weeks, but Boccieri is in a tight race and is down in the polls. (Edited by removing snarky comments.)

The unofficial GOP motto of this campaign season is the famous advice given by Han Solo to Luke Skywalker: Don't Get Cocky. See Instapundit for the best examples.

If the stated expectations are changing, why do you think that's any different from any other year? The sound bites at the beginning of every season are always big and full of bravado. As the season winds down, the rhetoric always changes to "we need every vote, this is not in the bag" to recruit those who might say "why bother?" The GOP is not alone in this tactic - seek B. Obama's recent tour speeches.

Re: ads. I thought I was safe, watching on Hulu rather than on "real" tv. Then I spent a week at my sister's house - no good computer viewing, reduced to watching cable. Oh, the humanity!

Then Hulu started running Strickland ads. I can't remember if they're for him or against him, maybe some of both. At least they only last 15 seconds as opposed to the 5 minutes of commercials per break during Project Runway.

AC

Eric said...

Great post, Steve.

As for the shift in expectations this political season: part of it, I think, is the sager heads in the GOP realizing they caught an asp by the tail with the Tea Party. The Tea Party folks ended up, in several state primaries, knocking out electable Republicans in favor of candidates whose popularity in the general is dubious. The most notorious example, of course, is Sharron Angle; the Nevada Senate race has gone from Harry Reid having, what was it, a 20% approval rating to Reid and Angle being neck-and-neck. Angle may win it, but it should never have been a competitive race. If it had been legal under election laws, the Nevada GOP could have run "Mystery Candidate Who Definitely Is Not Harry Reid" and won in a landslide ("Maybe our mystery candidate is this cute puppy. Maybe our mystery candidate is this filthy pedophile. The only way to know for sure is to vote Republican this November!") Instead, they ended up nominating someone who has suggested rape might be God's little miracle--and the race is suddenly up in the air, go figure.

It kind of goes back to one of your original point. The Tea Party folks want their country "back," not realizing that not only is it not "their country" but that a majority of Americans--including large swaths of conservative Americans--don't want to live in "their country," which is too white, too old, too reactionary, too mean-spirited, too religious, too dull, too hypocritical, etc., etc., etc.

Steve Buchheit said...

Hey Cassie, well, my representative is LaTourrette, and his seat is pretty safe. The Boccieri race is getting very nasty.

I'm not so sure the adjustment of expectations is all about the "Don't get cocky" (although, fortunately both parties are learning that lesson). I think it's in large part because the polls aren't so much in their favor anymore. The spin still is (note this weekend the focus on the AP/Knowledge Networks poll, were people who voted for Obama, 25-26% are thinking of voting for the opposite party, 28-29% of McCain voters are also thinking of voting for the other party, but all you heard was about how this is so bad for the Democratic Party and dissatisfaction with Obama, hello, statistics, you're doing it wrong).

As Eric points out, the GOP should be walking away with Nevada. They've been targeting Reid for defeat since 2004. Instead it's coming down to a "how many of which side will hold their noses and vote". Also in Alaska, Murkowski as a write in is nearly neck and neck with Miller. Look to Alaska to not settle their election until next summer.

There now is a good chance (less than 50%, but still a higher chance than should be given the historical precedent and dissatisfaction with Obama) that Republicans may not gain the House. And the Senate isn't looking so good either. So they're lowering the bar so they don't get slapped around in a "The Math" kind of way (you may remember Karl Rove's quote in the 2006 election).

cathschaffstump said...

Great post.

Standing up, that's important. Escape? That's really important.

And the best revenge is, in fact, a life well-lived.

Proud to know you Steve.

Catherine

Steve Buchheit said...

Thanks Catherine. I would put escape ahead of standing-up, especially in some situations. I know standing-up to the bullies isn't everyone's cup of tea and I don't want to perpetrate the "they'll stop doing this if you take a stand" myth.