I was a bully, too

It's Spirit Day—a now-annual commemoration of support for LGBTQ youth and a show of solidarity against bullying.

The day's gotten me thinking about bullying generally—and I've come to some uncomfortable realizations.

I was a bully, too.
I've never pushed anyone down the stairs. I've never beaten anyone up. I don't think I've ever said "That's so gay" or "What a retard."

But I was still a bully. 

All through school—mostly elementary, but into high school, tooI stood by, watching and listening, while other kids were teased, laughed at, excluded and whispered about and shunned. Insecure and desperate for acceptance by a powerful "in crowd"of which I was a nebulous member at best—I cast those bullied kids in my mind as somehow less feeling, less human, than I was. If the in-crowd was excluding someone else, that meant they weren't excluding me. 

And that made it OK to watch those kids cry—or, worse, see them go along with the teasing with a smile on their lips and agony in their eyes. 

The excuses of age and of immaturity are meaningless—it's not like the kids who were being taunted or shunned felt it any less simply because they were 10 instead of 16. And the contempt we showed as elementary school students wasn't any less powerful, less hurtful or less adult simply because we were in grade six.

I was a bully precisely because I did nothing.

Because I feel that way, I wonder whether our current trend of separating the bystanders from the bullies—as in Barbara Coloroso's book The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystanderlets the ones who stay silent, who stay below the radar, off too easily. 

It's time to stop exonerating the bystanders. Doing nothing is just as bad as doing something

Reaching out may not have saved Jamie Hubley, Jamey Rodemeyer or Shaquille Wisdom, or the scores of other bullied teens who have seen suicide as the only way out of an intolerable existence.

But doing nothing sure as hell didn't help. And for the record, I'm sorry.


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