On Bullying

Having written a political blog in the past I'd decided that this blog would be more focused on the more geeky side of life. This past week there was a Washington Post story on how current US Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney had bullied a fellow student. To quote the story:
Friedemann entered Stevens Hall off the school’s collegiate quad to find Romney marching out of his own room ahead of a prep school posse shouting about their plan to cut Lauber’s hair. Friedemann followed them to a nearby room where they came upon Lauber, tackled him and pinned him to the ground. As Lauber, his eyes filling with tears, screamed for help, Romney repeatedly clipped his hair with a pair of scissors. 
The incident was recalled similarly by five students, who gave their accounts independently of one another.

I'm not writing to say that every sin we commit in childhood must be held against us for all time and there are those who consider this to be a non-story. However, I found Mr. Romney's response to this story troubling. He issued a rather tepid response:

I don't recall the incident myself, but I've seen the reports and I'm not going to argue with that. There's no question but that I did some stupid things when I was in high school and obviously if I hurt anyone by virtue of that, I would be very sorry for it and apologize for it.

What bothers me is Mr. Romney does not seem to indicate an awareness of just how hurtful bullying can be. Mr. Romney indicates he does not recall the incident though does acknowledge it as a possibility. If he is being truthful I find it somewhat frightening that he is able to forget something like that.

This is where I tie things into the rest of my blog. For me, the transition from elementary school (kindergarten through 5th grade) to middle school (6th through 8th grade) was very difficult. I remember being mocked for  my weight, for the jeans I wore, for the way I played the trumpet, the way I walked, my bookishness, the way I spoke. I remember the spitballs. I remember the close friend who betrayed me as a way to help himself socially. I'm a forty year old adult who has thus far had a reasonably good adulthood. Happily married, two wonderful kids, a good career. Not a perfect life, but one that I have to say I'm happy with. Yet I still look back at those days with pain. I'm forty years old and 6th grade was probably the worst year of my life, beating out a lot of adult problems which have come since. If I could pull off stretching out a cold I would. Not one morning did I wake up looking forward to going to school. The most common emotion would be one of dread.

Oddly enough, as I looked through social networking sites, I don't seem to be the only person among my peers of around the same age who dealt with such issues.

D&D was one of my escapes from this bullying. I had my D&D group on Saturday mornings. I could get lost reading books, preparing for games, etc. And the social aspect of the game was a lifesaver for me, as it gave me friends, it gave me some level of confidence in my own circle. There was no real "cool geek" subculture back then.

Today bullying is taken more seriously. I'm proud to say that when my wife as a teacher witnessed a student being bullied for his sexuality she pounced on it. I think that is necessary. One needn't look far to find a story of a student bullied into suicide.

It is overly simplistic to label all bullies as the stereotypical evil bruiser of a kid who is on a mission of destruction. I have witnessed scenarios with younger children where the bully really needed to be made aware of the hurt he or she was causing in their way of getting attention..


Mr. Romney missed an excellent opportunity. I didn't need him to get down on his knees and and engage in an act of self-flagellation. But I feel as a person in the public eye and a leader he missed an excellent opportunity to educate. I would have loved to have heard something along the lines of... "Looking back on those days with the eyes of an adult I can now see I engaged in behavior that would today be regarded as bullying. I can only offer my sincerest apologies for the any pain I  caused in my ignorance and would like to praise the teachers of our nation who take an active role in making every student feel safe and secure in school."

I'm feeling a bit glum for posting something so serious and real-world to what is intended to be a geekiness embracing blog. My life did get better. I still encountered bullying throughout the rest of middle school and high school, though never to the same extent. I also seemed to shed some of the big target I had on me as I grew in confidence in myself. And remember the advice of Foamy the Squirrel on bullies...





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