What is the color of cruelty? Is there a hue to spite? Has unkindness a flavor, an aura?
Bullying is more than hits to the psyche, far more than pricks to fragile egos. It is abuse, at a systemic level that touches on the metaphysical.
Bullying has a physicality that is difficult to explain, it’s a crushing weight, an affirmation of being unworthy. It informs the unfinished clay of maturation, easing in distortions and untruths and dislocations that allow slippage along fault lines whose stresses build and build and build until nothing, and no one, can gainsay the pressure.
Bullying builds on a foundation of dysfunction, on differences, on power … on who has it and who doesn’t. It creates helplessness where none exists, it is leadership through vindictiveness, enabling and propagating a culture of exclusion. It is class warfare on a primal level we can barely fathom as adults.
It is like being locked in a white room with no exit, no windows, no doors, suspended in an eternity of agony.
I know this. I was bullied, mercilessly, in a time when it was an acceptable rite of passage, its delivery unsophisticated by today’s standards, yet just as crushing, as damaging as anything inflicted by the herd dynamics of modern techno-bullies.
The note was passed, hand-to-hand, on the offside of the line of desks, the teacher cater-corner to the rows, under the tall windows with the late sun slanting in.
Soft titterings wavered in the still air, heads dutifully bent over the assignment, a simple number substitution, so easy as to be of no consequence.
My penance was patience. I’d completed all the end-of-chapter assignments within three weeks so I sat with hands folded, staring out the window, daydreaming.
As long as I did nothing to disrupt whatever the teacher did during those quiet times, he cared little. He knew about the note, his eyes betraying his interest.
It’s odd what you remember … not her name, but her long blond hair, dazzling in curls and barrettes, swishing side-to-side in front of me. Glancing back she smirked and handed the scrap of paper into my willing hands, a link in a chain gang of mischief. I passed it on the boy behind me.
We were stacked by height, short to tall, bodies shuffled to distribute the troublemakers evenly about the room, as if that dissemination of evil would even remotely impede its execution.
Even today I feel the twitch of muscle, his forefinger jamming my shoulder, the paper fluttering by my elbow.
It was for me.
At fourteen tears come easily. But not when every head in the room turns, when every eye glints with impatience to see a reaction.
They shut me in that white room, the glare of spotlights illuminating every deficiency, real and imagined.
I colored those walls with the crimson haze of rage, the amethyst of despair, the ginger of madness and the saccharine pale hues of becoming.
If I’d chosen the way of so many other young men and women subjected to this form of social torture, I would not have been missed. I’d already been judged and found wanting.
Because, back then, no one spoke for the helpless, no one stood for them.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
We have the tools, the mechanism, to put a stop to this disease that ravishes our schools and neighborhoods, that stalks the young, the old, the lonely cocooned behind screens that savage rather than protect.
We need to teach our youngsters about consequences.
Because if we do nothing, the next child who succumbs to the terrorism of bullying might be yours.
It’s time to paint that white room with the color of hope.