Today I want to discuss something we’ve all experienced to some degree — bullying. Humans are very prone to making others feel inferior. They mask their personal insecurities with snide remarks and cruel looks and there is no age limit to it. Sometimes people aren’t even aware that they’re doing it or they feel it’s justified somehow. We forget the impact a few unkind words have had on us in the past and will carelessly snap at someone else.
I’ve been bullied and been a bully myself. This is something I never will understand about people. The most confusing thing I find about this whole bully/bullied-cycle (they’re definitely linked together in some weird-terrible-humany-cause-and-effect-thing that I don’t know the scientific term for) is how, personally, whatever side I’m on, I see myself as the victim. When I’ve been bullied, it’s obvious how I can see myself as the injured party, but when I’ve turned around and treated another person poorly, I’ve found a reason why I’m still the victim. It’s hard to realize you are wrong. Media pushes the idea that putting someone down can be “necessary” in some circumstances and a way to additionally further your own status. As if there’s something to be gained from bullying, in any form, for which it is worth hurting someone else.
When I was in eighth grade, I had a really nice and sweet friend, Charlotte. Charlotte was smart and a good student… and willing to do anything to help anyone. She would give another girl, Mary, the answers to her homework everyday. Charlotte often worried about getting caught sharing answers and Mary would get mad at her when she had the wrong ones to share. Charlotte told me about this and how it bothered her, but she didn’t want to be mean and tell Mary “no.”
I didn’t know Mary personally until the end of eighth grade when we both joined the girls’ outdoor track team. She didn’t know anyone in it and tried to befriend me and some other girls on the team, but I took it upon myself to exclude her because I felt like I was standing up for my friend Charlotte, who had nothing to do with the track team.
I made sure Mary was the last picked for relay teams, had no one to warm up with, and I was the first to call her out if she was slacking off in practice. I was awful. And I knew exactly what I was doing and how she felt and that it was wrong.
But that didn’t stop me. As Charlotte’s best friend, I felt that Mary’s mistreatment of her hurt me as well, a girl she didn’t even know. Being Charlotte’s best friend and the more assertive of the two of us, I often took it upon myself to defend her one way or another. Many years later I can see that there are better ways I could have helped. Alas hindsight is 20/20.
I used to have this idea that bullying is “just what girls do” because that is what we all do to each other. We all acknowledge that we do it and deal with it, but few people can stop it. There are girls who do their best to be kind to everyone, no matter what, and I admire you so much if you’re one of them. I admire you too if you can admit to yourself that you’re wrong when you hurt someone. That takes courage.
What takes the most courage is to stand up to the bully and stop them, especially if it’s yourself.
In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (I love the series and probably will mention it many times in the future), Dumbledore says “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much more to stand up to our friends,” and I love this quote. I want to add another piece to it and say that what takes the most bravery, so much that many people spend their whole lives avoiding it, is standing up to yourself and doing what’s right, no matter how you’re feeling.
So this is my challenge to you, dear reader: stand up to yourself. Make yourself tell other people to stop gossiping behind someone’s back, even if you dislike them and want to join in. Smile and congratulate a teammate on a good race. Don’t be afraid to admit that you’re wrong; be more afraid to ignore it forever. See what changes when you dare to be the nicest person you can be. Go out of your way to do what’s right and be kind to everyone.
Anna is a sophomore at Hartwick College, majoring in anthropology and history.