By Nick Fonda (Author of Principals and Other Schoolyard Bullies)
My first memory of being bullied goes back to Grade 3. The exact details are blurred beyond recall – or perhaps purged; our bodies do much self-healing without our being at all aware of the process. All that is left of that early experience is an image of me in the middle of a class of 8-year-olds, fearful and in tears. What came before and what came after, I do not recall.
The next year we moved to another city and I attended a different school. What did I do differently? I don’t remember, but I got through the rest of my schooling without being seriously victimized again, even though there were bullies around. I learned to be careful about people and places; I didn’t dare go into the boys’ washroom in my high school until I was in Grade 11, by which time the 20-year-old toughs in Tech Voc were a little less intimidating and I felt it was almost safe to stand for a minute at the urinal with my back turned. Bullying wasn’t newsworthy in those days, but it was very much a fact of life just the same.
I became a teacher and remained one for a long time. I had occasion to break up the occasional fight, and I know that at least a few times I was being used as a human shield by some students for whom getting from one classroom to another was a perilous journey. I have no doubt that I witnessed only a fraction of what was going on.
Only in the latter stages of my unexpectedly long career did I have parents approaching me with requests to intervene on behalf of a child who was being bullied, or to protect a child from the physical or psychological attacks of aggressive classmates. Sometimes I was able to help a little, but there were also times when I was of very little help, and on at least one occasion I probably made the situation worse.
As a child and an adolescent, I often wished for magic powers that might allow me to deal with injustices and inequalities. Superman comic books offered thrilling narratives but not a shred of practical information…But just as I long ago stopped dreaming of becoming a superhero, I no longer hold on to the hope that there is any real solution to the problem of bullying.There is something in Nature that pushes all forms of life to exploit the individual who is smaller or weaker or in some way different.
My father was a hobby farmer. One spring, in addition to ordering 100 newborn chicks, he also ordered 10 newly hatched turkeys. One of these turned out to be a runt. When we noticed that the other birds were pecking at the runt’s head, we removed him and put him in his own small enclosure.
He showed no signs of being happy on his own, ignoring his food to search for a break in the netting to rejoin the others. Eventually, we put him back, only to see the others almost immediately commence pecking at his head again.
With each blow, he would dip his head, but never would he try to flee or fight back.
We removed him several times, but in the end left him with the others. One morning we found him dead in the sawdust, his cranium cracked open.
In the course of writing about bullying, I found that I was no more successful than the creators of Superman in coming up with a blueprint for dealing with bullies.
There is no simple, universal solution. Fighting back can be as dangerous as running away.
The majority of the stories I have heard about bullying have led me to believe that, with luck, most of us will outgrow our bullies. If the stories have a moral, it might be: survive today to thrive tomorrow.
Nick Fonda of Richmond taught high school and elementary school in the Eastern Townships for more than a quarter of a century. He is also a journalist and author, most recently of Principals and Other Schoolyard Bullies, a book of short stories published by Baraka Books.
(Article published in the Montreal Gazette on Tuesday, January 10, 2012)