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"Don't Cry out Loud": Bullied Out Of Feelings About Bullying

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*Identities and exact circumstances are changed for purposes of confidentiality.

Everyone is running scared, but we already know that. We hear news of real tragedy on all fronts: natural disasters, global warming and more. And then there is the real and pervasive phenomenon of bullying that affects schools in all the colors and shades of money and ethnic backgrounds possible.

The other evening, a sixteen year old boy, who had just recently faced himself, his peers and his family about his being gay, told me he and some friends of both sexes planned to form a "wolf pack". It would be like a pack of wolves, organized with hierarchical roles and power, but coming together with the sole purpose of protecting one another against the school and street bullies. Not all of his friends were gay, not even bullied themselves, but they all identified with what someone bullied might feel. They all identified with "snapping", losing it, and some of them even felt euphoria in the thought of its possibility.

The longer than usual session ended with David's parents taking part in a heated conversation, in which we fought David about his underlying motivation to start a fight rather than protect anyone from combat. Given his quick temper and history of violent altercations, the idea seemed extremely risky. But while he spoke his peace, it was also clear why he would resort to what to us seemed extreme.

In poorer and blacker neighborhoods, street gangs have been a hallmark to the extent that the middle class has hardly paid attention. It has probably been understood that grownups are not worth that much in terms of fairness and real protection, so deal with it in the streets. But for us who articulate and deal through verbal expression, the Columbines of the world still shock us.

Our reactions, however, may have moved from shock to the more mechanical preparation for blame, the ever present dynamic of the American horizon. And here, we can see clearly just how blame encourages the opposite of what authorities swear they are pledging: Help our kids not be bullied and not bully. If we hear the true and difficult, poignant, sad, vengeful feelings of our children, if we are witness to actual words, written or verbalized, we may feel or actually become implicated in any potential acts of violence committed by that youngster. What happens is that the fear of implication, guilt and blame can create enough anxiety to minimize honesty or even discourage it.

If you see a film on Columbine, the events in a Colorado school where kids shot kids and adults before shooting themselves, most people go from horror to compassion to regret. When kids feel abused in isolation and without hope for exit, the options get slimmer and the tunnel vision of adolescence narrows all the more. When we learn of almost any story with which we can identify, we can usually identify even with acts of atrocity, which over-developed sadism and desperation can yield.

Here's the catch. Show a film to a middle school class or a high school class and have a discussion; allow the feelings. And if one student says he/she can identify with "snapping", whoops, the principal may well be called in. The protocol, spoken or not, is that the student expressing empathy or identification with acts of violence, must add in politically correct silent mandates: "BUT, OF COURSE I WOULD NEVER DO SUCH A THING". That takes the onus off the teacher, the guidance counselors, the principals or any students that might feel responsible for the statement of feeling becoming a fact.

We are, once again, giving our kids a double message. The way to solve, resolve or attempt to collaborate in understanding the bullying phenomenon, is to listen long enough to all of our own feelings first. If we hide behind our appearances to the extent we don't want the information of our own child's victimization or feelings and urges of sadistic impulses or intentions, we indirectly send them into the fires of actions and dire consequence.

Ecology, the often spoken but not that often used concept--at least in human terms--applies. We are all connected, and we are all connected to all aspects of human emotions, and the sooner we feel safer with this notion, the more we will listen to and speak to each other and allow our kids to do the same.

For now we may have to meet outside the schools so as not to incite the panic of principals. But let's create places, sooner rather than after it's once again too late.

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