During my school years, I did everything I could to ensure I wasn’t mistaken for a target for bullying. That probably stems from an incident when I was about 5 years old in which an older cousin was doing a pretty good job of it.
I’m not even sure what the gathering was, other than it was at my maternal grandmother’s home in Ames, and all six million of my aunts, uncles, and cousins (I’m only slightly exaggerating there) were there. Among them was one of my cousins who wasn’t particularly the most kind toward me.
He was a bully, and, like all bullies do, he was picking on me, mainly because I was a few years younger than him. But, as my father later pointed out, it was because I was letting him pick on me. At the daycare I attended, I was taught to run to the nearest adult and “tell on” kids like him.
So, I did.
Both of our dads were engaged in conversation at my grandmother’s dining room table. And, just as my uncle — the larger of the two (significantly) — started to get up, my dad said, “No, I’ve got this.”
My father, being at least four times my cousin’s size, was about to go to the front porch and squash the kid like the bug he was. I was so excited that I’m sure I was about pee my pants.
“So, what do you want me to do about it?” my father suddenly and abruptly asked me.
I just stood there, dumbfounded, for what seemed like an eternity with two of the biggest men in my life just staring back at me like I was the object of a grand inquisition. I thought I had been perfectly clear about what I wanted. I wanted someone to stop the bully.
“You take care of it yourself,” my father finally insisted.
Dejected, and with my head hung low, I slunk back to the front porch, where my cousin was waiting with a malicious smile spanning from ear to ear. Clearly, he had heard every word my father said, and was absolutely certain he had just won.
He couldn’t have been more wrong.
Maybe I was mad at Dad for not offering to deal with the situation. Maybe I was mad at my cousin for exploiting me all day. But probably, it was a lot of both.
Regardless, my head stayed down, but my fists clenched as I inched closer and closer to the front porch. As I looked up, I could see my cousin was about to say something incredibly arrogant and/or condescending.
He didn’t even see it coming.
With his mouth halfway open, in the process of forming whatever it was he was going to say – but never got a chance to utter — I punched him right in the nose. And, despite being nearly twice my age, he crumpled like a paper bag.
Trust me, the problem was solved. Never again did my cousin try to bully me, and never again did I take it from anyone else, even when it was directed at someone else.
A few years later, in gym class, there was a student who didn’t know how to swim. So, when the rest of us were going through our swimming tests, he clung to the edge of the pool, or doggie paddled around the shallow part of the pool with a couple of milk jugs.
Another kid in the class seemed to think that was something funny that should be ridiculed. And, whenever the teacher had her eyes elsewhere, he was letting the unskilled swimmer have it. Eventually, he went too far, even by the most lenient standards: he dunked the kid.
Before he even knew what had happened, I had him drug down to the bottom of the pool, where I proceeded to punch him a couple of times. My father was all-Central Iowa Conference in swimming and his brother was a PADI-certified SCUBA instructor. I could hold my own in the water.
When we came back up, and the now-reformed bully was gasping for air, I made sure he understood in two words: “Never again.” And, I have to say, the former bully has done quite well with his life. We’re even friends today.
With the advent of today’s social media technology, it’s become increasingly difficult to avoid bullies. In my day, making it home meant you were safe for another 12 hours. Not now. Facebook pages like “NHS Confessions” and “NHS Confessions/Secret Admirers” — and let’s be honest, even the “NHS Compliments” page — may seem like harmless fun to those who are posting to it, but bullying is never fun.
If you’ve humiliated someone with your words or actions “for the fun of it,” let me clue you in on something: you’re a bully.
My record on the subject may suggest otherwise, but I’m not about to say physical violence is the answer to bullying. But, a figurative punch in the nose — standing up and being confident in yourself — will always help against a bully.
Deep down inside, the bully is overly insecure himself. He’s only looking for an easy mark.
Friday, we sought out the public’s thoughts on the “confessions” pages. What resulted was an excellent community conversation that we plan to share with you in its entirety tomorrow.
If you would like to comment, you still can on our Facebook page, or you can write a letter to the editor.
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If you’re reading this, thank a teacher. If you’re reading it in English, thank a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine.
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Editor Bob Eschliman may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 423, or at firstname.lastname@example.org via email.