This is the second part of Bullying can make you or break you which I wrote a few months ago. Follow the link to read it.
For the last one year, a lot has been going on in the public domain and social media about bullying in Kenyan schools. One thing that has come out clearly is that we live in denial. No one who was and might still be a bully wishes to be identified as such. We think that bullies only operate in school scenarios and they are usually driven by the culture and circumstances at the school to be a bully. But, is this the truth, are bullies just people playing innocent planks and jokes to others? Or will bullies always be bullies?
Do Bullies Stop Bullying As Adults?
After I left primary school I did not come into close contact with Peter again. His family and mine were friends, though I must add we were considered the poorer friends. I remember going to social gatherings at his home, and I made a point of avoiding him. Luckily, I was a teenager and teenagers can be unpredictable, so I was able to ignore him, all his friends and cronies.
The next time I stood on the warpath of Peter, I was over thirty years old and already a mother. Peter had grown up and lost his baby fat. I remember that though he had also really bullied my schoolmate (she is still my friend to date) for being fat, Peter was a chubby, fat boy. As fat, as he was, he was also an active boy and in my mind’s eye, I always see him waddling like a duck and lagging behind every time we had a race. To make matters worse he had a protruding navel button which we all saw in its glory every time we had a swimming lesson. Anyway, he was now a grown man who had lost all his baby weight and tall, dark and handsome to the boot. Did I see his manliness as an adult? No! Did I see him as someone I would ever refer to as my friend? No! In front of me, all I could see and feel was the epitome of my fear and hatred. I became the haunted and tormented 10-year old all over again.
Peter after the completion of secondary school had gone to the United States for further studies. What I know for sure is that he never came back home with any professional qualification. Somewhere in the mix, he had a baby mama and a beautiful girl who still lives in the USA. He returned back home and could not hold a stable job. He was the last born so he was literary mum’s and papa’s boy. A man who lived hard and drank hard. Booze was what took him out. A man who knew that through his father’s wealth he was set up for life.
The last time I set my eyes on Peter was during a social gathering at his home in honour of his sister years later. That day we spoke. The fear, the paralysis, the freezing and being tongue tied all set in. For a second I would not move or utter a word. I stuttered. When I eventually recovered I managed to open my mouth it went something like this.
“Oh hi, Peter.” My voice must have been shaking and croaky.
“Hi, how are you? Oh you are also here”
“Yes. I have brought my mum. Ebu I say hi to so and so” and I must have sprinted off. My fear of him would not allow me to have a coherent conversation with him.
Two things struck me immediately during that conversation. Peter was a shell of his former self. He was now tall and thin, withered and shaky. He was no longer the tall, dark and handsome specimen of a man I had seen years earlier. He was wasted, both in body and spirit. He also was dead drunk. I soon realized that the loss of weight was due to many years of alcohol misuse and abuse. He, the son of the rich, had now resorted to drinking bootleg, illicit brew, the brew of kwaani mme zima taa (have you put off the lights) fame. He looked pathetic, struggling to hold up his head up no matter how drunk and how dirty he was. He reeked of alcohol and unwashed body odour but he spoke impeccable English. He was a source of embarrassment to his parents and siblings.
Impact of Bullying in my Life
When the news of Peter’s death came in, I was devoid of any emotions. As apathetic as I was towards his demise, I knew that I had to attend his funeral. I had to slay the dragon that had tormented me for more than 4 years in my childhood. My tormentor lay dead in a coffin and I did not feel sorry that he was no more. I felt relieved that the weight and the hurt had been removed from my shoulders. I felt sympathy for his mother because throughout the years she had lost so much; 2 sons, a husband and she had gone senile due to old age. She did not fathom the death of her child even as she sat at the graveside accepting condolences and messages of sympathy.
More than forty years later, I felt sorry and cheated that I never got a chance to confront Peter on how he had cowered me as a child. But I guess when one door closes another one opens. Bullying made me be sympathetic to people who have gone through any form of mistreatment. I will always try to find the slightest good that I can find in the very worst person within my reach. It is interesting to note that I have only been able to talk about my bullying experience only after Peter’s death. My siblings never knew the fact until very recently and of course only after Peter’s death.
Bullying Starts Early in Life
About two weeks ago the daughter of a friend at the age of tender age of ten has already been exposed to police investigations and interrogations. What are the circumstances of the police intervention? The girl reports to school as usual and as they are in one of the numerous line formations, the boy immediately behind pulls her school jumper at the neck towards himself. This is an act to stop her from moving on in the line, strangles her by the force of the jumper as he gropes her buttocks in a disgusting sexual gesture. This boy is 2 years older than the girl and way bigger physically. The immediate reaction of this girl was to turn and rain countless blows and kicks on the hapless boy. She floors him and continues to beat him up until his face looks like the artwork of a bloody butcher.
Needless to say, the school administration stepped in and summoned parents of both children. From the face value, it looked like the girl had acted in a brutish and churlish manner. The boy’s parents indignantly summoned the police and demanded that my friend meets their son’s medical bill. He had lost 2 teeth and had 4 stitches on his lip. The CCTV in the school nevertheless revealed a different scenario. It clearly shows the boy completely unprovoked strangle the girl and of course the aftermath. What the boy did not know or appreciate was this young heroine was a taekwondo student and she had heard a few of her friends complain about his bullying antics. She reacted to a provoked and unwarranted situation which should have happened if the boy had not behaved the way he had.
My question is how many of our children react and defend themselves in the face of being bullied? How many of our children will keep quiet for fear of further bullying if they speak out? How many children do we have to victimize when they react the way the girl did because the school or institution does not want the ugly truth to be known. How many children do we want to go through bullying in our schools before we can seriously address the situation by cutting the nip in the bud? How long are we as parents going to live in denial that we could be raising bullies within our families? How long will it take to accept that my child is a BULLY?
Why do People Bully Others?
I know a 21-year-old girl who was born to high achieving father. The girl is very introverted, very brilliant and a perfectionist. The girl has been bullied, actually terrorized her entire life, by adults, family (especially her father) and friends. In her short life, she has had to endure dumb questions as to:-
• Why is your head so big? Were you born like that? You are ugly with your big head.
• Why can’t you work faster? You are too slow and you can’t keep up with my pace.
• Why can’t you run? Why do you walk so slowly? And why do you limp anyway, you have just started limping 6 months ago
• Why are you fat? Why do you eat so much?
• Why do you shake so much?
• Why were you admitted in hospital? You don’t look sick.
• Why can you not use public means to get to school?
• Why don’t you have friends? Do you have a boyfriend?
• You are not as bright as you think.
This young woman was born with conditions that she had no control of. She has a condition where waste fluids do not drain from her brain easily, and hence her hospitalization, limp and big head. She has OCD making her into a perfectionist, a clean freak (and I use the word freak in the lamest way possible). Unfortunately, we demean, abuse and belittle things and situation that we do not understand. We do not care to ask what the person is going through before we pass judgement. Judgement that we think should be meted to the person who is not like us, the person who has dared to be different either because they were born different or out of their own volition.
By the time she was sixteen, she had landed in hospital with severe depression. She was unable to sit for her KSCE exams because she had been so consumed by the bullying from schoolmates through social media and the mobile phone; because she was scared of outperforming her bullies in the exams. She was scared of exposing her intellect if she topped her class. Intellect is something that she has in abundance. She also had been scared of failing her exams and letting down her father who had terrorized her to study for the same exams. I am happy that therapy and meds (she is off the meds now) have helped her to unleash her potential and she is now a psychology student in one of the universities.
Bullies would like their excesses treated as harmless teasing or jokes. Society also views them as one of the means of making a person stronger and more resilient. Bullies are usually very intelligent people who will take advantage of the weakness of others for their entertainment and feed their frail fragile egos. For bullies to thrive they have to be dominant, they have to be the winners in whatever field they envisage to excel in. Unfortunately, child bullies translate to adult bullies.